It’s not every day you get the chance to visit a city that was allegedly founded by one of the Titans of legend (the Phoenician version El, not the ‘Zeus is my son’ greek version…long story). This sea-side location is one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The title itself is heavily disputed, as it depends on one’s definition of ‘city and ‘continuously inhabited’. It is worth noting that 2 of the 7 cities competing for this title are in Lebanon (Beirut being the other). I guess that is for more learned people to decide which city has the honor.
My friends and hosts brought me here on my first day for an initial taste of Lebanon. Literally, as it turned out in this instance since the first thing we did was go for lunch. Fortunately, the stories I’d heard turned out to be true ad Lebanese cuisine is amazing and copious. I’m still surprised you get an extra table brought for just the desserts. Anyways after enjoying the ocean view we made our way into the old town. We walked in the souk area which is remarkably well preserved. Apparently, El should also be considered the god of good craftsmanship. However, while exploring the historic quarter a different god comes to mind…Hades (or whoever the Phoenician equivalent is. Melqart?). By this I mean it was hot, unseasonably so. You want to drink a full bottle of water after every day. Stepping out of the shadows felt like some deity was holding a giant magnifying glass over your head. Well, it is summer time, so I should not be surprised at all. Given these conditions, my friends wisely decided to stay back and enjoy a cool drink while I went to the ruins of the Crusader fort.
Byblos archaeological site
The castle is actually part of a larger archeological site. The castle itself was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century from indigenous limestone and the remains of Roman structures. The site also includes a few Egyptian temples, Phoenician Royal Necropolis, and the Roman amphitheater. Byblos was originally a Phoenician city, however, subsequent civilizations continued building on top of the previous one. This is true for most of Lebanon as I came to find out. The result is that archeologist needs to decide which civilizations architecture makes more sense to reveal on that particular site. Byblos is a strange exception as it features ruins from at least 3 different eras. Walking around the site you get the sense that nothing really fits with each other. Out of all these the construction that sticks out the most, however, is typical Lebanese house overlooking the sea. Its only after walking right up to its door and looking back at the complex that I realize the house illustrates the modern ground level with respect to excavations. In the below pictures you can see how high the house is relative to the other structures. I took these formt he top of the castle.
At this point I had twisted my ankle, ran out of water and the heat was killing me, so I decided to go back the souk. Fun fact, the main type souvenir sold here are fossils.
Church of St. John-Mark
Finally on our way back to the car we passed the church of the patron saint of the city. Built-in 1115 AD by the crusaders it is in great condition with a great view of the harbor. It is remarkable to see just how many different religions and culture have passed through over the centuries each leaving their own mark and somehow coexisting in the modern era.1
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