BEIRUT or Beyrout. (1) A vilayet of Syria, constituted as recently as 1888, which stretches along the sea-coast from Jebel el-Akra, south of the Orontes, to the Nahr Zerka, south of Mount Carmel, and towards the south extends from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. It includes five sanjaks, Latakia, Tripoli, Beirut, Acre and Buka'a. (2) The chief town of the vilayet (anc. Berytus), the most important seaport town in Syria, situated on the south side of St George's Bay, on rising ground at the foot of Lebanon. Pop. 120,000 (Moslems, 36,000; Christians, 77,000; Jews, 2500; Druses, 400; foreigners, 4100). Berytus, whether it is to be identified with Hebrew Berothai or not (2 Sam. viii. 8; Ezek. xlvii. 16), was one of the most ancient settlements on the Phoenician coast; but nothing more than the name is known of it till B.C. 140, when the town was taken and destroyed by Tryphon in his contest with Antiochus VII. for the throne of the Seleucids. It duly passed under Rome, was much favoured by the Herods and became a colonia. It was famous for its schools, especially that of law, from the 4th century A.D. onwards. Justinian recognized it as one of the three official law schools of the empire (A.D. 533), but within a few years, as the result of a disastrous earthquake (551), the students were transferred to Sidon. In the following century it passed to the Arabs (635), and was not again a Christian city till 1111, when Baldwin captured it. Saladin retook it in 1187, and thenceforward, for six centuries and a half, whoever its nominal lords may have been, Saracen, Crusader, Mameluke or (from the 16th century) Turk, the Druse emirs of Lebanon dominated it (see Druses). One of these, Fakr ed-Din Maan II., fortified it early in the 17th century; but the Turks asserted themselves in 1763 and occupied the place. During the succeeding epoch of rebellion at Acre under Jezzar and Abdullah pashas, Beirut declined to a small town of about 10,000 souls, in dispute between the Druses, the Turks and the pashas, - a state of things which lasted till Ibrahim Pasha captured Acre in 1832. When the powers moved against the Egyptians in 1840, Beirut had recently been occupied in force by Ibrahim as a menace to the Druses; but he was easily driven out after a destructive bombardment by Admiral Sir Robert Stopford (1768-1847). Since the pacification of the Lebanon after the massacre of the Christians in 1860 (for later history, see Lebanon), Beirut has greatly increased in extent, and has become the centre of the transit trade for all southern Syria. In 1894 a harbour, constructed by a French company, was opened, but the insecurity of the outer roadstead militates against its success. Nevertheless trade is on the increase. In 1895 a French company completed a railway across the Lebanon to Damascus, and connected it with Mezerib in the Hauran, whence now starts the line to the Hejaz. Since 1907 it has also had railway communication with Aleppo; and a narrow-gauge line runs up the coast to Tripoli. The steepness of the Lebanon railway, and the break of gauge at Rayak, the junction for Aleppo, have prevented the diversion of much of the trade of North Syria to Beirut. The town has been supplied with water, since 1875, by an English company, and with gas, since 1888, by a French company. There are many American and European institutions in the city: the American Presbyterian mission, with a girls' school and a printing office, which published the Arabic translation of the Bible, and now issues a weekly paper and standard works in Arabic; the Syrian Protestant college with its theological seminary, medical faculty, training college and astronomical observatory; the Scottish mission, and St George's institute for Moslem and Druse girls; the British Syrian mission schools; the German hospital, orphanage and boarding school; the French hospital and schools, and the Jesuit "Université de St Joseph" with a printing office. In summer most of the richer residents reside on the Lebanon, and in winter the governor of the Lebanon and many Lebanon notables inhabit houses in Beirut. The town has many fine houses, but the streets are unpaved and the bazaars mean. The Moslem inhabitants, being in a minority, have often shown themselves fanatical and turbulent. There are several fairly good hotels for tourists.
(C. W. W.; D. G. H.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)