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 Home > National Heritage > South Lebanon > Saida 
  

Sea Castle - Sidon - South Lebanon
(0m - 40 km south of Beirut)

Sidon is proudly considered the capital of the south. It was the third great Phoenician city-state on the Mediterranean coast.

The name Sidon was probably derived from the Semitic root SYD, meaning to fish or hunt. In the biblical and Homeric accounts, the term Sidonian designates the inhabitants of the Phoenician coast. 

When visiting this city you'll be able to recognize culture and tradition in every single way. It is the place where you can find great pieces of art and culture like Qalaat El Bahr (The Castle of the Sea), The Great Mosque, St. Louis Castle, and Kan Al-Franj (The best preserved Islamic monument of Sidon).
 

Sidon is one of the famous names in ancient history. But of all of Lebanon's cities this is the most mysterious, for its past has been tragically scattered and plundered. In the 19th century, treasure hunters and amateur archaeologists made off with most of its beautiful and important objects, some of which can now be seen in foreign museums. In this century too, ancient objects from Sidon (Saidoon is the Phoenician name, Saida in Arabic), have turned up on the world's antiquities markets. Other traces of its history lie beneath the concrete of modern constructions, perhaps buried forever. The challenge for today's visitor to Sidon then is to recapture a sense of this city's ancient glory from the intriguing elements that still survive.

The largest city in south Lebanon, Sidon is a busy commercial center with the pleasant, conservative atmosphere of a small town. Since Persian times this was known as the city of gardens and even today citrus and banana plantations surround it.


A LONG AND GLORIOUS HISTORY

There is evidence that Sidon was inhabited as long ago as 4000 B.C and perhaps as early as Neolithic times (6000-4000 B.C.). The ancient city was built on a promontory facing an island, which sheltered its fleet from storms and served as a refuge during military incursions from the interior. In its wealth, commercial initiative, and religious significance, Sidon is said to have surpassed all other Phoenician City states. Sidon's Phoenician Period began in the 12th-10th century B.C. and reached its height during the Persian Empire (550-330 B.C). The city provided Persia, a great land power, with the ships and seamen to fight the Egyptians and Greeks, a role that gave it a highly favored position. The Persians maintained a royal park in Sidon and it was during this time that tile temple of Eshmoun was built.
 

Sea Castle - Sidon - South LebanonGlass manufacture, Sidon's most important enterprise in the Phoenician era, was conducted on a vast scale and the production of purple dye was almost as important. The small shell of the Murex Trunculus was broken in order to extract the pigment that was so rare it became the mark of royalty. Like other Phoenician City states, Sidon suffered from a succession of conquerors. At the end of the Persian era in 351 B.C., unable to resist the superior forces of the emperor Artaxerxes III, the desperate Sidonians locked their gates and set fire to their city rather than submit to the invader. More than 40,000 died in the conflagration. After this disaster the city was too weak to oppose the triumphal march of Alexander the Great in 333 B.C: It sued for peace and the Hellenistic age of Sidon began. Under the successors of Alexander, Sidon, the "holy city" of Phoenicia, enjoyed relative freedom and organized games and competitions in which the greatest athletes of the region participated.

When Sidon, like the other cities of Phoenicia, fell under Roman domination, it continued to mint its own silver coins. The Romans also built a theater and other major monuments in the city. During the Byzantine period when the great earthquake of 551 A.D. destroyed most of the cities of Phoenicia, Beirut's School of Law took refuge in Sidon. The town continued quietly for the next century, until it was conquered by the Moslems in 636.


SIDON TODAY

The entrance to Sidon from the north is on wide divided highway lined with palm trees. As you approach the landmark Crusader Sea Castle and modern port installations are immediately visible. The busy main street is full of small shops of every kind, including patisseries, whose oriental delicacies are stacked in little pyramids.

Sidon is famous for a variety of local sweets which you can watch being made in the old souk or in shops on the main street. The particular specialty of Sidon is known as "senioura," a delicious crumbly cookie.
A growing city with a modern seaport, Sidon is the South's commercial and financial center. In prewar days it was a terminal and a refinery for Tapline, and now its huge storage tanks are used for the import and local distribution of fuel. The commercial port, the third largest in Lebanon, accommodates small freighters. Sidon is also the seat of government for South Lebanon.
 


IF YOU HAVE TIME ...

The Temple of
Eshmoun. At the right of the bridge on the Awali River just before reaching Sidon, is a spot known as "Bustan el Sheikh," site of the Temple of Eshmoun. This important monument goes back to the Persian period (6th century B.C.) when Sidon was at its zenith.

As the god of healing, Eshmoun was identified with Asklepios, the Greek god of medical arts. Each Phoenician city state had its own gods, and Eshmoun was one of the favorites of Sidon during its golden age, the 6th and 5th centuries B.C:

Additions were made to the temple in subsequent eras and it remained a sacred shrine and place of pilgrimage well into the first centuries A.D.
 

 


Getting There ...
From Beirut take the southern highway leading to Sidon.  (
See South Map)
 

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