Byblos figures on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.and for a good reason. Extensive archaeological investigations, begun in 1921, indicate that Byblos is one of the eastern Mediterranean cities that claim to have been continuously inhabited longer than any other city in the world, with remains of civilizations dating from about 5000B.C. According to Phoenician tradition it was founded by the god El, and even the Phoenicians considered it a city of great antiquity. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least 7,000 years.
The Phoenicians, called Sidonians in the Old Testament and Phoenicians by the Greek poet Homer, were Semites, related to the Canaanites of ancient Palestine. Historical research indicates that they founded their first settelements on the Mediterranean coast about 2500 BC.
Early in their history, they developed under the influence of the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures of nearby Babylon.
About 1800 BC Egypt, which was then the beginning to acquire an empire in the Midlle East, invaded and took control of Phoenicia. Beginning about 1400BC raids of Egyptian territory by the Hittites weakened the Egyptian empire, giving the Phoenician cities an opportunity to revolt. By about 1200 BC the Phoenicians were independent of Egypt.
Although its inhabitants had a homogeneous civilization and considered themselves a single nation, Phoenicia was not a unified state but a group of city-kingdoms, one of which usually dominated the others. The most important of these cities were Simyra, Zarephath (Sarafand), Byblos, Jubeil, Arwad (Rouad), Acco (Akko-in present-day Israel), Sidon (Sayda), Tripolis (Tripoli), Tyre (Sur), and Berytus (Beirut). The two most dominant were Tyre and Sidon, which alternated as sites of the ruling powder.
The words "Byblos" and "Phoenician" would not have been recognized by the city's early inhabitants. For several thousand years it was called "Gubla" and late "Gebal", while the term "Canaan" was applied to the coast in general. It was the Greeks, some time after 1200 B.C., who gave us the name "Phoenician", referring to the coastal area. And they called the city "Byblos" ("papyrus" in Greek), because this commercial center was important in the papyrus trade.
Byblos' role in shipping papyrus rolls from Egypt to Greece is even remembered today in ways most people don't even know. The word "Bible" is derived from the Greek ta biblia, meaning "the books", which in turn came from the word for a collection of sheets of papyrus (shipped through Byblos), biblion, meaning "book."
Today Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic), is (like Jericho, Akko, Damascus), located on the coast 37 kilometers north of Beirut, is a prosperous place with glass-fronted office buildings and crowded streets. But within the old town, medieval Arab and Crusader remains are continuous reminders of the past. Nearby are the extensive excavations that make Byblos on of the most archaeological sites in the area. It contains layers dating as far as the Stone Age and extending through the most recent Ottoman era.
Byblos Achieved its greatest renown in the third millennium BC when it was a busy Phoenician port city used for trade. Ships from throughout the Mediterranean would come to Byblos in search of local materials, as well as those found in other further-distant lands.
About 7,000 years ago a small Neolithic fishing community settled along the shore and several of their mono-cellular huts with crushed lime stone floors can be seen on the site. Many tools and weapons of this Stone Age period have been found as well.
The Chalcolithic Period (4,000-3,000 B.C.) saw a continuation of the same way of life, but brought with it new burial customs where the deceased were laid in large pottery jars and buried with their early possessions. By beginning of the early Bronze Age (about 3000 B.C.) Canaanite Byblos had developed into the most important timber shipping center on the eastern Mediterranean and ties with Egypt were very close.
The pharaohs of the Old Kingdom needed the ancient Lebanese cedar trees that covered the Lebanese coast and nearby highlands, and other wood for ship-building, tomb construction and funerary ritual, were extremely important materials in the barren and arid parts of the Middle East and North Africa. In return, Egypt sent gold, papyrus rope, alabaster and linen. Thus began a period of prosperity, wealth and intense commercial activity.
Several centuries later Amorite tribes from desert overran the coastal region and set fire to Byblos. But once the Amorites had settled in, the city was rebuilt and Egypt again began to send costly gifts to Byblos. Treasures from the royal tombs of Byblos show the great wealth that flooded the city.
Around 1200 B.C. a wave of the so-called "sea Peoples" from the north spread to the eastern Mediterranean, and some settled on the southern coast of Canaan.
These seafarers probably contributed their skills to the maritime society we know today as Phoenicia.
About this same time the scribes of Byblos developed an alphabetic phonetic script, the precursor of our modern alphabet. By 800 B.C., it had traveled to Greece, changing forever the way man communicated. The earliest form of the Phoenician alphabet found to date is the inscription on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos.
Throughout the first millennium B.C., Byblos continued to benefit from trade in spite of Assyrian and Babylonian encroachments. Then came the Persians who held sway from 550-330 B.C. The remains of a fortress outside the Early Bronze Age city walls from this period, show that Byblos was a strategic part of the Persian defense system in the eastern Mediterranean. After conquest by Alexander the great, Byblos was rapidly Hellenized and Greek became the language of the local intelligentsia. During this Hellenistic Period (332-64 B.C.), residents of Byblos adopted Greek customs and culture. Both the Greek language and culture persisted throughout the Roman era which was to come. In the first century B.C. the Romans under Pompey took over Byblos and other Phoenician cities, ruling them from 64 B.C. to 395 A.D.
In Byblos they built large temples, baths and other public buildings as well as a street bordered by a colonnade that surrounded the city. There are few remains of the Byzantine period (395-637 A.D.) in Byblos, partly because construction was of soft sandstone and generally of poor quality. Byzantine stones were also quarried for later buildings. During this era the city became the seat of a Christian bishopric.
Under Arab rule, beginning 637 A.D., Byblos was generally peaceful but it had declined in importance over the centuries and archaeological evidence from this period is fragmentary.
In 1104 Byblos fell to the Crusaders who came upon the large stones and granite columns of the roman buildings and used them for their castle and moat. With the departure of the Crusaders, Byblos continued under Mamluk and Ottoman rule as a small fishing town, and its antique remains were gradually covered with dust.
Before Byblos was excavated, the ruins of successive cities had formed a mound about 12 meters high covered with houses and gardens. The ancient site was rediscovered in 1860 by the French writer and savant Ernest Renan, who made a survey of the area. In 1921-1924 Pierre Montet, a French Egyptologist began excavationswhich confirmed trade relations between Byblos and ancient Egypt. Maurice Dunand began his work in Byblos in 1925 and continued with various campaigns until 1975.
A thriving modern town with an ancient heart, Byblos is a mix of sophistication and tradition. The old harbor is sheltered from the sea by a rocky headland. Nearby are the excavated remains of the ancient city, the Crusader castle and church and the old market area. For a real taste of Byblos, stroll through the streets and byways. This part of town is a collection of old walls (some medieval) overlapping properties and intriguing half-ruins. Don't hesitate to explore.
The Medieval Rampart: it was first built by the crusaders in the early 12th century strengthened hard at distance by towers, 270 m E-W and 200 m N-S.
The Harbor & Harbor Towers: The Crusaders built defensive towers on either side of the mouth of the port, and a chain could be raised between the two towers to prevent boats from entering.
Sayedet al -Najat Church: (Our Lady of Deliverance)
Built during the 12th 13th centuries over the remains of an older Byzantine church. Many Roman architectural elements are reused in its structure.
Saint-John the Baptist Church: known today as St-John Marcus Church, Construction began in 1115, with additional structures added over time during the 12th-13th centuries, such as the Italianate-style cupla with an open air baptistery (13th century) in the northwest corner. Each one of the church's 3 naves ends with a semi circular apse. In the 18th century the church was given to the Maronite community by Emir Youssef Chehab.
It was severely damaged during the British bombardment of 1840. it was restored in 1947 and the bell tower was added. The architectural style of the church is roman but reflects the oriental Byzantine influence. In the garden to the west of the church are traces of mosaic paving of an earlier Byzantine church.
The Mosque of The Sultan Abed el-Majid: this small Ottoman-era mosque was built in the old historic quarter, and it was renovated by Emir Youssef Chehab in 1783. It has a semi spherical cupola and an octagonal minaret.
The Fossils Museum: It has impressive displays of fossilized fish and other marine life, some millions of years old. Many of them were excavated from the mountains above Byblos near the towns of Haqel, Hjoula & Nammoura. The museum is located in the souk area.
Visit the site of Byblos
The site today, right in the middle of the town and on the coast, is quite impressive, despite the rough and hodgepodge quality of the remains.(one cannot criticize history for its lack of order.)
Standing proudly above it all is the heavy Crusader castle. Using the rock salvaged from older structures (even Roman columns were used), the Crusaders built thick outer walls around an equally dense keep. The best views of the entire site are from the roof of one of these outer walls. You can see the nearby beaches, and even the coast toward Beirut.
Surrounding the dominant Crusader castle are a wide selection of ruins: the remains of huts from the fifth millennium BC, a few temples from the third millennium BC, tombs and an obelisk temple from the second millennium BC, shrines and a rebuilt theater from roman times, and , of course, some impressive Medieval walls.
1. The Roman Road: At the entrance of Byblos are the remains of the Cardo Maximus and the traces of the original roman paving and a series of reconstructed columns from the colonnade that once lined the road.
2. Remains of a City gate dating from the third millennium B.C. Located on the left side of the castle, this gate appears as a wide opening between two ancient stone ramparts. Traces of fire are visible, recalling the Amorite invasion about 2150-2000 B.C.
3. A Primitive Wall built before 2500 B.C., this is the oldest fortification on the site.
4. Foundations of the "L" Temple (so called because of its shape) erected in 2700 B.C. a section of charred stone at the entrance of the sacred court is an evidence that the temple was destroyed by fire, probably at the time of Amorite invasions 2150-2000 B.C. Terra cotta basins set in a bench of masonry behind the entrance probably held water for ritual ablutions.