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Explore / Byblos – Jbeil

It is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is also one of the rare sites that have continuously been inhabited since their foundation excavations show that it dates back to the 6th millennium B.C. Its ancient inhabitants did not call it Byblos, but rather "Jubla" and later "Jebal". Around 1200B.C. the Greeks named it Byblos or "Papyrus", because it traded in this product.

Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) is today a very charming city distinguished for its neighborhood that dates back to the Middle Ages with its historic sites and ruins.

How to reach Byblos – Jbeil

It is 37 kilometers north of Beirut. It can be reached by taking the Beirut – Tripoli highway or by taking the old road along the coast near the Gulf of Jounieh.

Historical Background

During the last Stone Age (the Neolithic period), 7000 years ago, fishermen established a small village on the seaside of the Mediterranean Sea. Today only few features of it remains (floors; wooden sheds made of one cell, each covered with lime). Those primitive inhabitants used to make a great number of utensils and weapons using flint for this purpose. This style of life remained as thus until the Chalcolithic period (4000 – 3000B.C.), when new funerary ceremonies were observed (burying the deceased in big pottery jars and their humble personal possessions). Around 3000B.C. Byblos experienced a wonderful progress when its timber trade flourished. It used to export timber to the eastern part of the Mediterranean, especially to Egypt because the pharaohs of the old sultanate needed this wood for ship- building. They also used it in their funerary rituals. In return, they sent to Byblos pots made of gold, alabaster, papyrus paper and linen cloth. Byblos experienced a booming period and an active trade movement.

 

During the 2nd millennium B.C, the Amorites invaded the city and burned it. But, they rebuilt it and started to trade with Egypt as soon as they settled in Byblos. The royal tombs date back to that era; they contain treasures that reflect the great progress in the city.

 

Around 1200B.C. sea peoples began to spread and some groups settled on the eastern coast of the land of Canaan.

 

During that period, the scribes of Byblos developed a new system of writing called vocal alphabet. The oldest writings of this system are inscribed on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram, who was from Byblos (today it is found in the National Museum). During the 9th and 8th centuries B.C., Greece employed this alphabet, and from this system the other modern alphabets were developed through the Greek and Latin languages.

 

During the first millennium B.C., despite the trouble made by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, Byblos benefited from its trade. From the ancient Persian rule (550 – 332 B.C.), Byblos retained, near its walls (that date back to the Bronze Age), the ruins of a castle that bespeaks its strategic importance for the Persian defense system in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. After Alexander the Great occupied Byblos and during the Hellenistic period (332 – 64 B.C.), the Hellenistic culture made its imprints on Byblos. The local thinkers and intellectuals adopted the Greek language and culture.

 

During the first century B.C., the Romans occupied the Phoenician shores under the leadership of Pompey. Their occupation remained four and a half centuries (64B.C – 395A.D.). This period witnessed the construction of temples, public buildings, baths and a network of roads bordered by colonnades. As for the Byzantine period, few landmarks remain, like stones used in the building of towers. These stones were quarried for later construction projects.

 

With the coming of the Arab rule after 637A.D. Byblos was a small quiet city. Its importance declined for a long time until the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., when the city fell to the Crusaders.

 

The Crusaders occupied Byblos-Jubla in 1104 and in 1109 it became the traditional fortress for the county town, Tripoli, which was governed by lords from the Embriashi family. A huge fortress was built in Byblos in which stones of archeological edifices were used.

 

The Crusaders left the city and it came under the rule of the Mamluks and Ottomans. Byblos turned into a small village almost empty except for a small number of inhabitants. Its archeological landmarks started to become concealed bit by bit.

Excavating Archeological Remains

With the passage of time, Byblos turned into a hill, a mound of landmarks that bespeak the subsequent eras of occupation. This mound is 12 meters high, and it is covered with houses and gardens. In 1860, Ernest Renan did an exploratory job. Its results were affirmed by Pierre Montet, a scholar who was acknowledged as an expert in Egyptian archeology, between 1921 and 1924, especially and concerning the relationship that existed between Byblos and Egypt. Maurice Dunand resumed those excavations until 1975, and the greater part of these landmarks was discovered.

 

Archeological sites:

The visit to the site begins by turning toward the left, to the east of the Crusades Castle.

From the Roman pathway, columns appear. These columns in addition to the remains of the pavement were renovated by archeologists.

On the roof of this castle, on the left side of the entrance, there is an ancient water jet and cave of Roman nymphs decorated with a niche which contains statues and is decorated with water jets. The roads that used to start from the north to reach the city lead to a floored courtyard in front of the castle.

The main gate that dates to the 3rd millennium B.C. brings into view a large skylight between two ancient stone walls. The signs of fire on it bespeak of the Amorite invasion that took place in 2150 – 2500B.C..

East of the site, outside the walls of the Bronze Age, there is an ancient Persian fortress (555 – 332 B.C.). Its remains today include foundations and square temples. All these landmarks show that Byblos was a strategic center for the ancient Persian defense system in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.

On the right side there are remains of the oldest wall that was built before 2500 B.C.

The foundations of the “L” Temple - named  so because of its shape - date back to 2700 B.C. The charred stones near the sacred courtyard denote that the temple was burnt during the Amorite invasions. Most probably, the eastern basins that are merged in a stone settee behind the entrance used to contain water for daily washing. The Sacred Pool extends in the empty area that separates the "L" Temple from the temple of Baalat Gebal. The Temple of Obelisks was built on top of the "L" Temple, but archeologists moved it to another place in order to bring its framework into view. Most probably, the numerous small obelisks were used as votive offerings. More than one thousand votive offerings were found inside the temple. Some were small human statues covered with golden leaves.

The main spring, called Ain el Malik, comes up from a large cavity. Its interior part is made of stones. It is said that in this place, while Isis was looking for Osiris, she met the nymphs who carried water and they led her to the castle of the king of Byblos.

On the right side, there is a wall as well as houses that date back to the pre-urban period (3200 – 3000B.C). At the rear there are foundations of three houses. The first one has a religious purpose, and it dates back to the Calcolithic era (the era when brass came into use). The second one can hardly be distinguished. The third lays in the southern part and it comprises some rooms. Most probably, its roof was supported by seven pillars (the second half of the fourth millennium).

The visitor reaches the remains of a castle that dates back to the Canaanite period (the Bronze Age; 3rd millennium B.C.). The remains show part of a roof supported by 15 wooden pillars rising on a stone foundation.

On the left side of the ancient Lebanese house that dates back to the 19th century there are foundations of houses from the Canaanite period (the Bronze Age; 3rd millennium B.C.). There are also foundations that date back to the Amorite invasion period (2150 – 2000B.C.). Around this house there are Neolithic and Calculithic edifices (6 – 4 millennia) and remains of graveyards and unicellular houses. The floor is covered with lime.

In the northern part of this area there is a house for religious purposes. Another one is found in the southern section. In these houses there were temples.

On the southwestern part of the temple of Baalat Gebal, there are remains of a quarry that dates back to the Amorite period where you also find further to the west remains of a large edifice that dates back to an era before the Amorite period. Its western façade shows the subtleness of its construction as well as its greatness. The temple of Baalat Gebal (2700 B.C.) was built to honor the Lady of Jbeil when the city was on good terms with Egypt. It was restored and rebuilt several times and used for two millennia until it was restored during the Roman period according to the style of that period.

The Odeon or the Roman Theater (218A.D.), two thirds of which are missing today, used to be between the city gate and the two temples. Later it was rebuilt where it stands today near the shore. Its seats were decorated with mosaics. Later they were decorated with small black stones before they were taken to the National Museum in Beirut.

During the second millennium nine walls were unearthed, and royal tombs where the kings of Byblos were buried were found. As for the Ahiram sarcophagus with the first inscriptions of the Phoenician language, it is the most important one despite the richness of the other tombs. (Today it is one of the masterpieces in the National Museum in Beirut).

In front of the royal Necropolis there is a platform covered with geometric pieces taken from a residential area. The six columns to the east of the tombs are remains of a colonnaded street which was built in 300A.D.. It used to lead to the temple of Baalat Gebal (Lady of Byblos).

The walls and the Glacis (from the 3rd and 2nd millennia) indicate to the building styles of the different periods in which the city was built. The prominent wall reflects the methods of fortification during the 3rd millennium. The Glacis which is made of large blocks dates back to the Hyksos (Egyptian pharaohs of an eastern Semitic origin).

In the place where the present Crusader Castle lies there was a tower that dated to the Fatimid period of the era. In the beginning of the 12th century, the crusaders built a huge Castle that comprised a huge central tower and a courtyard and an enclosure which contained four towers. There was a fifth tower in the middle of the northern-wall for fortification purposes. The Castle was surrounded by a trench. The Crusaders used stones from ancient ruins to build the castle, and parts of it were restored during the Mamluk and Ottoman eras.

 

The Site opens daily from 8a.m. to sunset

Paid Entry

Other Landmarks in the Ancient City

The City Wall That Goes Back to the middle Ages:

The Crusaders built it in the beginning of the 12th century around the old city and braced it with towers. It is 270 meters long from east to west and 200 meters from north to south.

 

Mar Yuhanna Marcus Church (St. John Mark Church)

First it was dedicated to Saint John, the Baptist. It was built during the 12th and 13th centuries, possibly starting from 1115. Later the semi-circular cupola was added to the open air Baptistery that stands outside the church (in the northern part of the church). During the 18th century, Emir Yousef Chehab offered it to the members of Maronite Monastery, who restored the church. It was restored again after it was damaged by the British fleet in 1840. In 1947 the bell tower was built.

 

The Two Defense Towers

They were built by the Crusaders at the port of Byblos to protect its entrance. The two towers were linked by a chain for the sake of additional protective measures. Today, the port is a fascinating place where you can see the fishing boats and the restaurants that are scattered all around the place. In 1648, the Mosque of the Sultan Abdel Majid was built in the old historic quarter. It was renovated by Emir Yousef Chehab in 1783. It comprises a semi cupola and an octagonal minaret.

 

Saydet el Najat Church (Our Lady of Deliverance)

It was built during the 12th and 13th centuries A.D. over the remains of a Byzantine church. It is distinguished for its massive pillars.

 

The Fossils Museum

It is at the center of the market place near the archeological site. It contains a collection of fossilized fishes, animals and plants taken from the plains of Hjoula and Nammoura (in the region of Byblos) that date back to millions of years. It opens every day except on Monday from 9a.m. to 1p.m., and from 3p.m. to 6p.m.

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In the District of Byblos

Afqa

It is distinguished for its huge grotto (a breach which takes a triangular shape). It lies at a slope that is 200 meters long. Nahr Ibrahim (Adonis River) springs from this place. The grotto has inspired the ancient people, who made of it a symbol of the goddess Venus (the Phoenician Aphrodite), who gave birth to the young god. In front of this grotto, there are the ruined walls of the temple to Venus, which is not in good shape anymore. Part of the water canals is still linked to the foundations of a temple that was destroyed by Constantine the Great. It was rebuilt during the reign of Julian, known as the atheist (360 – 363).

Fertility rituals were held in this temple for a period longer than that held in other temples. It was not abandoned until the fifth century A.D. In this place an atrophic fig tree grew up. It still attracts pilgrims who come to take holy water or to hang a piece of cloth on its branches or to light candles or to offer votives showing gratitude for certain fertility. Christians today honor the Virgin Mary in this place. The Shiite Muslims honor Fatima el Zahra in this place.

 

El Machnaqa

A rectangular, wide hall marks off the sacred wall of the sanctuary. In the middle of the hall there are the remains of a temple surrounded by four pillars where the foundations of two altars appear. These used to be furnished and built in compliance with the necessities of the period such as the religious and rituals practices that were followed then. This temple did not have doors. Remains of the pillars and the edifice as well as the tools for construction are scattered in the place. On cliffs that overlook this site there are crypts where the dead were buried. On most of them there are boards on which drawings appear. They are linked to religious rites or to the achievement of the dead person in the act of hunting.

 

Yanuh

It contains the remains of a Roman temple that during the middle Ages became the church of Saint George the Blue. The temple of Yanuh is a Corinthian edifice that has square pillars and side doors. On the main wall, there is a niche where the statue of the god was put. Around the temple, there are remains of residential houses and a church (from the Middle Ages). Most probably, it goes back to the time when the Maronite patriarch lived there during the 18th century A.D.

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