Southern Lebanon’s history is filled with records of militarily and political events dating as far back as the Assyrians. Recent archeological discoveries have uncovered more details of a later historical period, namely the Bronze and Iron Age. Most Southern Towns and cities witness to the region’s rich past and offer the visitor a unique glimpse into the civilizations that have successively invaded the land.
(550m – 80km from Beirut)
Chqif is the Syriac word for Beaufort (Belfort) Castle which means High Rock. At first sight, the fortress seems inaccessible, but it can be easily reached from the village of Arnoun. In front of it, the visitor will see a large water cistern and the ruins of an ancient village contemporary with the citadel. There is no direct evidence of the building date or the builder of this castle. According to William of Tyre, it was erected by the crusaders, but some scholars are of the opinion that it is older. It has been suggested that the monument was already standing when the crusaders arrived.
The fortress lies on a 700 meter high rocky hilltop. Its plan had to follow the relief and topography of the site and resulted in a quasi-rectangular shape. To the east, it overlooks the 300 meter deep Litani River Valley. On the other three sides, it is surrounded by a moat. In spite of its very bad state of preservation, some of its elements are still standing and are easy to identify.
Getting There …
From Zahrani (south of Sidon) get on the east highway towards Nabatiye, beyond which is the village of Arnoun. Pass through Arnoun and continue until the Castle comes into view.
(0m – 42 km from Beirut)
The Temple of Eshmoun is situated one kilometer from Sidon, in a lush valley of citrus groves on the Awwali River. This Phoenician temple was dedicated to the healing god Eshmoun, and it is the only Phoenician site in Lebanon that has retained more than its foundation stones.
Building was begun at the end of the 7th century B.C. and later additions were made in the following centuries. Thus, many elements near the original temple site were completed long after the Phoenician era, including the Roman period colonnade, mosaics, a nymphaeun, and the foundations of a Byzantine church. All of these buildings testify to the site’s lasting importance.
Legend has it that Eshmoun was a young man from Beirut who loved to hunt. The goddess Astarte fell in love with him, but to escape her advances he mutilated himself and died. Not to be outdone, Astarte brought him back to life in the form of a god. It is also said that the village of Qabr Shmoun, near Beirut, still preserves the memory of the young god’s tomb. Known primarily as a god of healing, Eshmoun’s death and resurrection also gave him the role of a fertility god who dies and is reborn annually.
Each Phoenician City State had its own gods; Anti-Eshmoun was one of the favorites of Sidon. The site of his temple must have been chosen because of the nearby water source which was used in the healing rituals. It was the custom to offer statues to the god that bore the names of those who came for healing. The fact that most of these votive pieces depict children suggests that Eshmoun may have been regarded as the pediatrician of the times.
During the Persian era, between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C, Sidon was the first Phoenicia City to be noted for the opulence of its kings, the advanced culture of its intelligentsia and the excellent reputation of its industry. The Persian kings held the kings of Sidon in great regard and granted them many rewards, especially for the Sidonian fleet’s active participation on their side during their wars against Egyptians and Greeks.
Eshmoun can he included in a visit to Sidon, or made an excursion of its own. Visitors with a sense of curiosity will find that several hours are easily filled exploring this ancient Phoenician spa.
Getting There …
From Beirut take the southern highway leading to Sidon. Just before entering Sidon or crossing the Awwali bridge, you will need to make a left turn into Eshmoun which lies on a hill northeast of Sidon.
(300m – 95km from Beirut)
Qana is perhaps the biblical Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, or his first miracle. Notable historians seem to agree it is the same site. Eusebius who lived in the 4th century suggested that the town was near Sidon, as do the 3rd century writings of St. Jerome. Early Christian rock carvings and a nearby grotto further support this theory. Large basins have been excavated in the village and are believed to have contained the water that was turned into wine. While the debate over the history of this village continues, it nevertheless offers the visitor an enjoyable glimpse into its past.
Getting There …
From Beirut take the southern highway leading to Tyre. Drive past Tyre and then get on the first major road eastbound. Qana is 13km from Tyre.
(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.
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.
Glass 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.
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.
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.
(0m – 80 km south of Beirut)
Tyre is really one of the most magnificent sights in the world and one of the greatest sculptured works of art that must be admired. Tyre was considered to be very powerful and wealthy due to its flourishing maritime trading, its purple dye and glass industries, but that attracted the enemies who occupied it. Tyre had witnessed many civilizations that played a great role in this city in the past like Arabs, Byzantines, Creeks, and Phoenicians.
The most important sights that reveal the great history of this ancient city are “The Triumphal Arc” that is dated to the 2nd and 3rd centuries, “The Necropolis”, and “The Hippodrome”.
In 1984 Tyre’s important archeological remains prompted UNESCO to make the town a world heritage site. Prosperous Tyre is notable for its many high-rise buildings; nevertheless, the inner city has retained its industrious maritime character and its interesting old style houses.
Phoenician Tyre was queen of the seas, an island city of unprecedented splendor. She grew wealthy from her far-reaching colonies and her industries of purple-dyed textiles. But she also attracted the attention of jealous conquerors, among them the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great.
Founded at the start of the third millennium B.C., Tyre originally consisted of a mainland settlement and a modest island city that lay a short distance off shore. But it was not until the first millennium B.C. that the city experienced its golden age.
In the 10th century B.C. Hiram, King of Tyre, joined two islets by landfill. Later he extended the city further by reclaiming a considerable area from the sea. Phoenician expansion began about 815 B.C. when traders from Tyre founded Carthage in North Africa. Eventually its colonies spread around the Mediterranean and Atlantic, bringing to the city a flourishing maritime trade.
But prosperity and power make their own enemies. Early in the sixth century B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege to the walled city for thirteen years. Tyre stood firm, but it is probable that at this time the residents of the mainland city abandoned it for the safety of the island.
In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great set out to conquer this strategic coastal base in the war between the Greeks and the Persians. Unable to storm the city, he blockaded Tyre for seven months. Again Tire held on. But the conqueror used the debris of the abandoned mainland city to build a causeway and once within reach of the city walls, Alexander used his siege engines to batter and finally breach the fortifications.
It is said that Alexander was so enraged at the Tyrians’ defense and the loss of his men that he destroyed half the city. The town’s 30,000 residents were massacred or sold into slavery.
Tyre and the whole of ancient Syria fell under Roman rule in 64 B.C Nonetheless, for some time Tyre continued to mint its own silver coins. The Romans built a great many important monuments in the city, including an aqueduct, a triumphal arch and the largest hippodrome in antiquity.
Christianity figures in the history of Tyre, whose name is mentioned in the New Testament. During the Byzantine era, the Archbishop of Tyre was the Primate of 311 the bishops of Phoenicia. At this time the town witnessed a second golden age as can he seen from the remains of its buildings and the inscriptions in the necropolis.
Taken by the Islamic armies in 634, the city offered no resistance and continued to prosper under its new rulers, exporting sugar as well as objects made of pearl and glass. With the decline of the Abbasid caliphate, Tyre acquired some independence under the dynasty of the Banu ‘Aqil, vassals of the Egyptian Fatimides. This was a time when Tyre was adorned with fountains and its bazaars were full of all kinds of merchandise, including carpets and jewelry of gold and silver.
Thanks to Tyre’s strong fortifications it was able to resist the onslaught of the Crusaders until 1124. After about 180 years of Crusader rule, the Mamlukes retook the city in 1291, then it passed on to the Ottomans at the start of the 16th century. With the end of World War I Tyre was integrated into the new nation of Lebanon.
The most important recent archaeological find is a Phoenician cemetery from the first millennium B.C. Discovered in 1991 during clandestine excavations, this is the first cemetery of its kind found in Lebanon Funerary jars, inscribed steles and jewelry were among the objects retrieved from the site.
The importance of this historical city and its monuments was highlighted in 1979 when UNESCO declared Tyre a World Heritage Site.
In the meantime, government efforts have stopped much of the wartime pillaging that Tyre’s archaeological treasures suffered because of economic stress in the area and international demand for antiquities. Grassroots campaigns have also drawn attention to the importance of the city’s antiquities.
The necropolis, excavated in 1962, yielded hundreds of ornate stone and marble sarcophagi of the Roman and Byzantine periods. Foundations of a Byzantine church can also be seen. The archway stands astride a Roman road that led into the ancient city. Alongside the road are the remains of the aqueduct that assured the city its water supply.
South of the necropolis is the partially reconstructed Roman hippodrome excavated in 1967. The 480-meter structure seated twenty thousand spectators who gathered to watch the death-defying sport of chariot racing. Each end of the course was marked by still existing stone turning posts (metae).
Charioteers had to make this circuit seven times. Rounding the metae at top speed was the most dangerous part of the race and often produced spectacular spills.
Skin Diving: Basic equipment is sufficient for exploring the ancient Phoenician breakwaters and jetties. Look for the Murex, still living along Tyre’s shores among the rocks and sunken archaeological remains.
Ras el-Ain (6 kilometers south of Tyre) has been Tyre’s main source of water since Phoenician days. Its artesian wells gush up into stone reservoirs that have been maintained through the ages. One of the reservoirs fed the arched aqueducts of the Roman period that once stretched all the way to Tyre.
Sarafand (28 kilometers north of Tyre) is the site of ancient Serepta, mentioned in the Bible. Excavations here revealed the remains of Canaanite-Phoenician structures and Roman port installations. Modern Sarafand still has a workshop where the ancient Phoenician art of glass blowing is practiced.
Tomb of Hiram: On the road to Qana El-Jaleel, (6 kilometers southeast of Tyre) is a burial monument from the Persian period (550-330 B.C.). This has traditionally been called the tomb Of Hiram, the celebrated Phoenician architect of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Getting There …
From Beirut take the southern highway leading to Sidon. Continue further south for about 45km before you reach Tyre.