Lebanon, especially its coastal region, is the site of some of the oldest human settlements in the world, such as the Phoenician ports of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos. These were all dominant centres of trade and culture in the 3rd millennium B.C., and for a long time, Lebanon served as one of the busiest cultural hubs in the Middle East.
Lebanon is unique in that it shares many cultural similarities with the rest of the Arab world, yet has characteristics that also differentiate it. Its rugged, mountainous terrain has historically served as a place of asylum for political dissidents as well as marginalised religious and ethnic groups. It was only in 1920 that the current state came into being, becoming a republic in 1926, and achieving independence in 1943. As a result, there are a wealth of fascinating historic sites that offer an insight into the country’s diverse past and exciting present. Here’s our pick of 5 of the best.
Baalbek is a hugely impressive Roman site in Lebanon which is home to the largest Roman temple ever built, as well as a range of other magnificent ancient structures. There is also evidence of Baalbek’s time beyond the Romans. For example, the ruins of the Roman Temple of Venus show how it was incorporated into a Byzantine church. This and other sites tell of the time of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius, who destroyed many of the Roman holy sites in favour of churches and basilicas.
Visitors to Baalbek can see the impressive ruins of these incredible structures including standing in the shadow of six of the original 54 columns of the Temple of Jupiter – the largest temple ever built by the Empire. Baalbek is also the place to see the extremely well-preserved Temple of Bacchus, the stairs of the Temple of Mercury and a ceremonial entryway known as the propylaea. Visitors can also see the remnants of a large 8th century mosque from the Arab conquest.
Byblos in Lebanon is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, as attested by the incredibly diverse ages of its ruins. Thought to have first inhabited sometime around the fifth millennium BC, Byblos began as a Neolithic village of fisherman.
Today, Byblos bears the marks of all of these civilisations. Stone Age, Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age dwelling sit side by side with a royal Phoenician necropolis and Roman sites such as a theatre, a road and nympheum. There is also a 12th century Crusader Castle, a reminder of when Byblos was conquered in 1104.
Anjar was a city of the Umayyad Islamic dynasty, founded in the early 8th century by Caliph Walid I. Over the course of this century, Anjar’s setting at the centre of two trading routes allowed it to flourish into a commercial hub. Yet, in 744AD, this prosperity came to an end when Walid’s son, Caliph Ibrahim, suffered a defeat.
Following this, Anjar was damaged and subsequently abandoned. Yet, it is this short history which makes Anjar such an important site. For, every aspect of what remains of this once great trading city – it’s carefully planned layout, the large arches and colonnades of the palaces which once stood there, the ruins of its 600 shops and its great fortifications – can all be dated precisely to the Umayyad period as this city rose and declined under its rule. In fact, Anjar was never actually completed.
Originally a thirteenth century Crusader fort, the Sea Castle of Sidon now stands as a picturesque ruin and popular visitor attraction in the city of Sidon, Lebanon. The city of Sidon is located on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon, and throughout its history which dates as far back as 4000 BC, has been of great religious, political, and commercial value. Sidon Sea Castle was built in 1228 AD by the Crusader Knights of St John of Hospital and Jerusalem. Built on a small island in the Port of Sidon, it was used as a fortress of the holy land, and was connected to the mainland by a narrow 80m long roadway.
Today the site offers visitors the opportunity to explore both the inner courtyard and the striking towers.
Situated high amongst the Chouf Mountains amongst stunning terraced gardens and orchards, Beiteddine Palace is a sumptuous 19th century gem. Designed by an Italian architect, the palace was built over the course of 30 years between 1788 and 1818. It was built for Ottoman-appointed governor of the region, Emir Bashir Chehab II. Its name translates to ‘House of Faith’, while its design reflects a mixture between Arabic and Italian baroque styles.
Today, much of the palace has been extensively restored. Highlights include the stables, which used to be able to accommodate 600 horses and 500 foot soldiers, which now contain an extensive collection of Byzantine mosaics. The upper floor houses the Rashid Karami Archeological and Ethnographic Museum, which contains items from the Bronze and Iron Ages, Roman glass, gold jewellery, lead sarcophagi, glazed Islamic pottery, and a miniature replica of the palace to provide visitors with an idea of the structure’s original form.