Our first trip in Lebanon was to Byblos, billed as the "oldest city in the world in continuous existence." Located about 45 minutes north of Beirut, the city has witnessed every group to inhabit this region: stone age dwellers, the Phoenicians, Amorites, Hittites, Egyptians, Persians, Macedonians, Greeks, Romans, Ottoman Turks, and, most recently, the French. The name itself is a variant of papyrus and Byblos was a great information center. It is from this name for written documents that the Bible gets its name. It is located on one of the few natural harbors on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. Here is a brief tour of this ancient city. Click on any picture for a larger shot.

The Seaport Castle

The first site you see walking toward the old city is the Crusader's seaport castle, built by the Franks in order to defend the harbor.

The Crusader's Castle

The Frankish Crusaders in the 12th century build a large fortified castle which dominates the highground around the area. It is easily the most dominant landmark in the area. The approach to the archeological sites at Byblos is up the stairs leading to the main gate of the castle. When the Crusaders constructed the castle, using stones from ancient tombs, temples, and buildings, there was a moat surrounding the castle. Later the Ottoman Turks drained the moat, and constructed the walkway to the castle. Part of the castle was used by the Turks as a stable.

The City Ramparts

From the walkway to the castle, the elaborate system of ramparts or wall can be seen. Several wall were constructed in order to thwart would-be attackers. They were built deep into the ground to prevent burrowing under the walls, and several wall would retard advancements while making the diggers easy targets for archers firing from narrow slits in the castle walls. To the right are remains from the 2nd and 3rd millenium. The archeological site is excavated at different level, so that visitors can see the full history of the city. For example, the columns to the left indicate the level of the city during the Roman occupation.

Temple of Baalat Gebal

This is the oldest temple in Byblos, dating back to the fourth century B.C. It was rebuilt after being ravaged by fire during Amorite rule. The temple was leveled again and a new temple was built later. Another ancient name for Byblos was Jbail, a combination of the name of the Phoenician God Baal (to whom this temple is dedicated) and Gebil or the spring that supplied the area with water.

Obelisk Temple

This temple is remembered for the obelisks found in the forecourt (the enclosure on the left-hand side of the picture). The right-hand side was a sanctuary. The most prominent obelisk was built under Abichemou, the ruler at the end of the 19th century. The boxes visible to the far right were called "god boxes," and it was believed that was where the gods lived, and so they were worshipped there. Evidence of offerings reinforces this notion. Some archeologists believe that earlier the temple may have been devoted to rites associated with Adonis and Astarte.

Roman Colonnade

These columns are remants of the Roman era in Byblos. Perhaps 5 meters higher than the Neolithic settlements excavated around the ramparts, it shows how much had to be excavated to get to the earliest inhabitants of the city. The columns are Corinthian in style, and made of marble, with Greek style friezes.

Royal Necropolis

To the west of the Roman Colonnade are the tombs The ancient Phoencians would excavate deep wells, such as the one shown to the left. They would fill them with sand, and then place the sarcophagus (shown at right) into the sand, where it would eventually sink even lower. Round stone markers at the top of the well aperture would indicate the number of rulers buried in a given well. These tombs date from the second millenium B.C. The tomb shown here is that of Phoenicia's most famous ruler, King Hiram, a contemporaryof Ramses II of Egypt. Incidentally, much of the stonework at Byblos came from Aswan, Egypt.


Roman Ampitheater

This is a reconstruction of the original Roman Theatre. The original was this size, but about three times higher. It has marvelous acoustics, and is frequently used as a performance site. It is built on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean sea. The original floor, since removed to a museum, was of fine mosaic. The remaining outstanding feature are the porticos in front of the stage.

The Souk

"Souk" is an Arabic name for markets, and in Byblos and elsewhere, these are narrow alleys full of merchants. This picture shows one such thorofare in the old city of Byblos. Just down the hill from this street is the famous Byblos Fishing Club, a favorite hangout of the Jet Set in prewar days.

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