The earliest evidence of civilization in Lebanon dates back more than 7,000 years—predating recorded history. Lebanon was the home of thePhoenicians, a maritime culture that flourished for nearly 2,500 years (3000–539 BC). Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the five provinces that comprise modern Lebanon were mandated to France. The French expanded the borders of Mount Lebanon, which was mostly populated by Maronite Catholics and Druze, to include more Muslims. Lebanon gained independence in 1943, and established a unique political system, known asconfessionalism, a power-sharing mechanism based on religious communities – Bechara El Khoury who became independent Lebanon's first President and Riad El-Solh, who became Lebanon's first prime minister, are considered the founders of the modern Republic of Lebanon and are national heroes for having led the country's independence. French troops withdrew from Lebanon in 1946.