The mighty Roman ruins of Baalbek jut dramatically out of the fertile plains of Lebanon's Bekaa valley. They have drawn visitors for centuries, as chronicled in the graffiti of ancient travellers scrawled into the vast limestone walls and columns.
But with the spiralling civil war in neighbouring Syria and numerous countries warning against travel to Lebanon, this tourist season has been a tough one. On a recent trip the touts selling Hezbollah T-shirts and guidebooks outnumbered the smattering of visitors.
It's not really a surprise that many stay away. This is the heartland of the heavily armed Hezbollah, where powerful local clans often engage in deadly clashes.
As I relaxed with a mint tea after exploring the ancient ruins, the unmistakable sound of gunfire broke out behind the café, echoing off the walls of the great temples erected to worship Jupiter, Venus and Bacchus.
The shopkeeper at the stall next door continued to read his paper without flinching, but even my companion – a reporter who has spent much of the past two years dodging bullets in Libya and Syria – began to grow nervy as the lead flew back and forth.
The café owner tried to reassure us, distressed at losing what little custom he had. "Stay, drink your tea, it's just the kids celebrating the end of their exams."
Although there may have been a few celebratory firecrackers interspersed in the mix, it transpired that the local hash farmers, incensed that the authorities had set fire to their cannabis fields, had attacked a police station just a few hundred metres away.
It may be some time before packed tour buses make regular stops at these ancient wonders, some of the most monumental and best preserved relics of the Roman Empire.
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 4 Vogue under fire for 'Big Booty' article
- 5 Julian Assange and Edward Snowden join piracy mogul Kim Dotcom’s political campaign in New Zealand
Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Jihadi John': MI5 may have identified Isis militant who killed David Haines but options limited
Scottish independence: Police will be on high alert on Friday whatever the result
David Haines beheading: David Cameron says Britain will hunt down Isis 'monsters' shown in video murdering aid worker
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Salmond accused of laughing off national debt with ‘what are they going to do: invade?’ joke
£80 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Key stage 1 Teacher - Gloucest...
£50 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are looking to recruit two ...
£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Newcastle: Our clients are looking for...
£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...