Society

Baalbek festival to offer respite from regional woes

By Tamer Abu Zeid in Beirut

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A portrait of iconic Lebanese singer Fairuz lights up the Temple of Bacchus on November 21st, 2016 -- her birthday. The 2017 Baalbek International Festival will open on July 7th this year. [Al-Mashareq]

Preparations are under way to ensure the security and success of the 2017 Baalbek International Festival, set to open on July 7th.

Since it first opened in 1957, the festival has enchanted Lebanese and international visitors with star-studded music, dance and theatrical performances from leading national and international talent.

This year, as it has done for six decades, it offers respite from regional woes that in recent times have brought floods of Syrian refugees to the area, and demonstrates Lebanon's determination to transcend its troubles.

The festival will open with an event titled, "The new generation: Celebrating the Lebanese nights", featuring live performances by multi-platinum Lebanese artist Rami Ayach, with singers Aline Lahoud and Brigitte Yaghi.

Ahead of the grand opening, organisers are putting in place precautionary security measures to reassure visitors and tourists who wish to attend that the festival will be safe.

"An action plan is being implemented that takes into account all logistical requirements," said Baalbek-Hermel province governor Bashir Khodr.

He and other community leaders are highly invested in the success of the festival, he told Al-Mashareq, and are taking all steps to ensure its security.

Extending a welcome

"The city of Baalbek is always ready to welcome tourists at all times and in all seasons, especially during Baalbek International Festivals," Baalbek deputy municipal chief Mustafa Sulh told Al-Mashareq.

The Baalbek-Hermel governor, head of the municipality Brig. Gen. Hussein Lakkis, the municipal council, influential political figures and civil and cultural organisations have worked hard to manage the Syrian refugee crisis, he said.

"So far, there have been no problems or unusual incidents related to the Syrian refugees owing to the positive measures taken, bearing in mind that there are about 140,000 Syrian refugees in the city and region of Baalbek," he noted.

"The security situation today is much better than it was before," he added, commending "the security measures taken during the festivals".

"Heritage houses with wood and mud roofs built by our ancestors more than 150 years ago are fully prepared to receive and accommodate visitors in a traditional Baalbek heritage atmosphere," Sulh said.

Heritage and modern hotels also are ready to receive guests in Baalbek, Zahle and Chtaura, he said.

Festival draws a crowd

"The Lebanese cabinet will meet next month in Baalbek to reassure all tourists and visitors," Sulh said.

"We held the festival last year and the years before it," he said, noting that the festival and others like it were "well-attended and crowded with visitors".

He invited visitors to "come and spend the whole day in Baalbek because it offers beautiful tourist attractions".

"The Temple of Bacchus remains a destination for visitors from all over the world," he said.

Baalbek or Heliopolis (City of the Sun) is a wonder of the ancient world, with Roman temples that are the largest ever built and among the best preserved.

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