Tyre, you say, "I'm perfectly beautiful!" But your territory is in the depths of the sea, and it's your builders who made you beautiful. For you they made your deck of cypress from Senir. To make your mast, they took cedar from Lebanon. For your oars, they used the oaks of Bashan. They made your hull, inlaid with ivory, of boxwood from the coasts of Cyprus. Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was your sail; it became your emblem. Your awning was made of blue and purple cloth from the coasts of Elishah. (..) Every seagoing ship and its sailors came to do business with you.
Ezekiel - 27 - Common English Bible
Sea-faring Phoenicians came to trade there, greedy rogues bringing a cargo of trinkets in their black ship. A Phoenician woman lived in my father's house, tall and handsome and skilled in fine handiwork. The cunning Phoenicians seduced her.
Homer - Odyssey - Book XV - Translation by A. S. Kline
The Phoenician people enjoy the glory of having been the inventors of letters, and the first discoverers of the sciences of astronomy, navigation, and the art of war.
Pliny the Elder - The Natural History - Book V - Translation by John Bostock and H.T. Riley
(left) Map of ancient Lebanon (Atlas of Ancient & Classical Geography - London - J.M. Dent 1907): (right) map of today's Central and Northern Lebanon. Black dots indicate the main locations covered in this section (Heliopolis=Baalbek); yellow dots indicate locations which are covered in other sections, namely Antaradus (Tartous), Damascus, Zabadani and Caesarea Philippi (Banias); (inset) a detail of "Tabula Peutingeriana", a Vth century map of the roads of the Roman Empire showing the main towns of the region
Phoenicia, a Greek word with a root meaning red/purple, is used by Homer and other ancient writers with reference to the land where an expensive purple dye was made, chiefly at Tyre and Sidon. Lebanon derives from a Phoenician word with a root meaning white and it is thought to be a reference to the snowy peaks of a mountain range that runs parallel to the coast; until the end of the XIXth century it was used only for designing this mountain range.
Here we came into that part of Syria, which was the ancient Phoenicia, a country always remarkable for its commerce; the inhabitants of which went out in many colonies, and peopled Carthage, Sicily, and several other countries. Ptolemy indeed makes it to begin about Dora, near Caesarea on the Sea, and to extend northward to the river Eleutherus, beyond Tripoli, which empties itself into the sea not far from the isle of Aradus.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
R. Pococke (1704-1765), a Bishop of the Church of Ireland, extensively travelled in the Near East in 1737-1741. In May 1738 he entered Lebanon from the south at Ras el-Nakoora and he travelled along the coast visiting Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli. He then crossed the Lebanon range to see Baalbek in the Bekaa valley on his way to Damascus. His travel accounts were published in 1743 and 1745.
The ascent of the mountain is steep and the vegetation is scanty though it reaches to the summit. A few oaks and shrubs grow amongst the rocks. The road is practicable for loaded mules and my horse ascended without difficulty. (..) At the end of two hours and a half we reached the summit from whence I enjoyed a magnificent view over the Bekaa and the Anti-Libanus on one side and the sea shore near Tripoli, and the deep valley of Qadisha on the other. We were not quite upon the highest summit which lay half an hour to the right.
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt - Travels in Syria and the Holy Land - 1822
J. L. Burckhardt (1784-1817) was a Swiss explorer who wanted to discover the source of the River Niger. He believed he could reach his aim by becoming fluent in Arabic and having an in-depth knowledge of the Muslim way of living. In 1809 he moved to Aleppo in Syria where he studied the Qur'an, probably converted to Islam and took the name of Ibrahim. In September 1810 he travelled from Damascus to Baalbek and the Qadisha Valley before returning to Syria. In February 1812 he entered Lebanon at Tripoli, he visited the mainly Christian Kesrouan region and then the Chouf, the mountain south of Beirut where he stayed at Beiteddine Palace.
In the summer of that same year Burckhardt decided to travel to Cairo by following an itinerary to the east of the River Jordan valley and the Dead Sea. He managed to reach Wady Mousa, a faraway location where he discovered Petra. He sent accounts of his travels to the British African Society, which promoted the exploration of that continent. They were published in 1822, after Burckhardt's death in Cairo in 1817, which was caused by dysentery.
The Bekaa Valley in the fog with the Anti-Lebanon range in the background from the Beirut-Damascus road
The country round Bairout is most delightful.
In the foreground is a plain, varied by small hills,
covered with cottages, and enriched with olive, palm,
orange, lemon, and mulberry trees, and vines; and
behind are the mountains of Anti-Lebanon, covered
with snow. (..) The territory of Baalbec extends down to the Bekaa. On the eastern side it comprises the mountain of the Anti Libanus up to its top and on the western side the Libanus likewise as far as its summits. (..) This district is abundantly watered by rivulets; almost every village has its spring all of which descend into the valley where most of them lose themselves or join the Liettani (the ancient Leontes which is shown in the left map) whose source is between Zahle and Baalbec.
William Turner - Journal of a Tour in the Levant - 1820
W. Turner (1792-1867) landed at Beirut on March 24, 1815. He was a young attaché at the British Embassy at Constantinople and he travelled alone. He made an excursion to the Kesrouan region and then moved southwards to visit Sidon and Tyre on his way to Acre, the Holy Land and Egypt. He planned to visit Baalbek on his return trip, but he eventually went back to Constantinople by ship. Unlike Pococke and Burckhardt who often travelled wearing Arab or Turkish clothes, Turner did not give up his European dress: These Arabs crowded round my companion and me, and attentively examined our dress: I afterwards found that they took our buttons for sequins. How anxiously they must have wished for an opportunity to waylay us.
National Museum of Beirut: (above-left) a block of obsidian from Tell Arqa, north of Tripoli, which was found in a 5,000 BC setlement; (above-right) burial arrangements from Byblos (6,500 BC); (below-left) funerary urn from Byblos (3,500 BC); (below-right) funerary urn from Cyprus found at Tyre (VIIIth century BC)
According to ancient historians the Phoenicians came from a region of the Persian Gulf. A block of obsidian from Gollu Dag, a volcano near Nigde in Cappadocia was found in Lebanon and it indicates early trading links with that region. Obsidian, a volcanic glass, fractured into pieces with sharp edges which were used as tools and weapons before the development of metallurgy (see some obsidian pieces at Lipari in Sicily).
Evidence of burial grounds at Byblos show that permanent settlements existed already in the VIIth millennium BC and thus the town is regarded as a site which has been continuously inhabited for an extremely long period of time, perhaps The Oldest City on Earth.
National Museum of Beirut: (left) Stela of Pharaoh Ramses II found at Tyre (XIIIth century BC) (see a similar stela at Scythopolis, a town in the River Jordan valley); (right) statue in Egyptian attire found at Sidon
Commercial and religious links with Egypt, probably by sea, were developed in ca 2,500 BC. Both Phoenicia and Egypt were invaded by the Hyksos, a people from western Asia in ca 1,800 BC. When the Pharaohs freed themselves from that domination they conquered Palestine, Phoenicia and Syria in order to prevent other invasions. They ruled these countries through governors, but many towns retained a degree of autonomy. During the conflict between Egypt and the Hittites, the Phoenician towns improved their political status. Towards the Xth century BC the military power of Egypt declined.
National Museum of Beirut: Sarcophagus of Ahiram, King of Byblos
This elaborate sarcophagus was found in 1923 in the royal necropolis of Byblos. It has a decoration which follows Assyrian patterns and it contains the first inscription in the fully developed Phoenician alphabet. This was based on 22 consonants and it greatly simplified the writing of contracts and other trade instruments which were difficult to express in the hieroglyphic or cuneiform alphabets of the dominant powers. It was used by merchants and thus it spread to the countries with which they traded.
We do not have historical records about King Ahiram, but his son Ithobaal I in ca 878 founded a dynasty in Tyre during the rule of which the town knew a period of great prosperity. The Tyrians established a number of trading posts along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and even beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. The first colony in Africa is thought to have been Utica, but the most famous one is Carthage, which was founded by Dido, the widow of a King of Tyre.
National Museum of Beirut: Ford Collection: anthropoid sarcophagi from near Sidon (Vth century BC)
Between the IXth and the VIth centuries BC the Phoenician cities had to deal with the influence of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires. In general they managed to appease their greedy neighbours by paying tributes in gold and commodities and they retained their privileges with the exception of Sidon which was sacked in 678. In 538 BC Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and in 525 his son Cambyses II conquered Memphis, the Egyptian capital. The Phoenicians gained from the change and Sidon provided the Persians with the ships for the Second Invasion of Greece in 480 BC. The main Phoenician cities were allowed to mint their coins. The cultural links with Egypt and Greece led to the design of a particular type of sarcophagus which, similar to the Egyptian ones, has anthropoid features, but it is made with Greek marble and the portrayal of the dead often shows the influence of Greek sculpture (see some other Phoenician sarcophagi which were found near Tartous).
(left) National Museum of Beirut: stela to Baalshamar from Oumm el-Amed south of Tyre (Hellenistic period); the winged sun disc is often seen in Egypt, but also in other parts of the ancient world (e.g. at Karatepe, a neo-Hittite town, and it is a Zoroastrian symbol); (right) American University of Beirut: similar stelae and in the background the Phoenician alphabet
In 332 BC Tyre was seized by Alexander the Great after a siege of eight months. Most of its inhabitants were sold into slavery and the town lost its importance in favour of Alexandria, the conqueror's newly founded port in Egypt. After the death of Alexander in 323 BC the cities of Phoenicia belonged first to the Ptolemies of Egypt and then to the Seleucid monarchs of Syria who granted them a degree of autonomy. During this period strong cultural and economic ties were established between Syria and Phoenicia which began to be regarded as part of the former. A temple to Baal Shamin, a Phoenician god, at Palmyra in the Syrian desert testifies to these links.
National Museum of Beirut: Roman mosaics: (left) Zeus with Leda and with Ganymedes from Beirut; (right) Zeus with Ganymedes from Tyre
At the end of the IInd century BC the Seleucids controlled only a small fraction of their former empire and their authority was weakened by dynastic quarrels. In 63 BC Pompey intervened and imposed direct Roman rule; Phoenicia became part of the newly established Province of Syria which had Antioch as capital. Some cities retained a degree of self-government. Berytus (Beirut) rose to prominence when Emperor Augustus granted it the status of Roman colonia. It became the seat of the most famous provincial school of Roman law. The school, which probably was founded by Emperor Septimius Severus, lasted until the destruction of Berytus itself by a major earthquake followed by tsunami and fire in July 551. Two of Rome's most famous jurists, Papinian and Ulpian, both natives of Lebanon, taught as professors at the law school in the early IIIrd century.
Baalbek - Temple to Jupiter Heliopolitanus: the Great Court and in the foreground a dedicatory inscription to I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo) H(eliopolitano); see a detail of the fallen ceiling in the image used as background for this page
These temples are built upon massive substructions that might support a world, almost; the materials used are blocks of stone as large as an omnibus; very few, if any of them, are smaller than a carpenter's tool chest and these substructions are traversed by tunnels of masonry through which a train of cars might pass. With such foundations as these, it is little wonder that Baalbec has lasted so long.
Mark Twain - The Innocents Abroad - 1869
The prosperity of Phoenicia depended on sea trade and its main cities were located along the coast. During the Roman rule however, Heliopolis (Baalbek), an inland town in the Bekaa Valley, became famous as the site of a shrine to Baal/Helios/Jupiter. Emperor Septimius Severus granted it the status of colonia. He and his son Caracalla promoted the enlargement and completion of gigantic temples which had been initiated by previous emperors. They were the husband and the son of Iulia Domna, the daughter of a Syrian high priest, and this explains their interest in the shrine.
National Museum of Beirut - Roman period: (left) stela with the inscription: "Sarapion, oh good one and missed, farewell"; (centre) gravestone of two couples from near Byblos; (right) mosaic on the lid of a sarcophagus from near Sidon
During the Roman rule, the native Phoenician language died out in Lebanon and was replaced by Aramaic as the vernacular. Greek was often preferred to Latin, the language of the military and of the public officers, as shown in many gravestones. The country produced a number of important writers in Greek, most notably Porphyry of Tyre (234-305) who played a key role in disseminating the Neoplatonic philosophy of Plotinus, his teacher, which influenced both pagan and Christian thoughts in the late Roman Empire.
Beiteddine Palace: Mosaics of the Vth-VIth centuries from churches of southern Lebanon
The Constitution of the Lebanese Republic recognizes twelve Christian communities, an effect of the many theological quarrels which originated between the IVth and the VIIth centuries in the eastern provinces of the Roman/Byzantine Empire. The Maronites, a Christian community named after St. Maroun, a hermit who died in 410 and the founder of a monastic order, were persecuted by other Christian communities and had to leave their homes in northern Syria and to settle in the mountains of Lebanon; they absorbed the indigenous peasants to form the present Maronite church. Originally Syriac-speaking, they gradually adopted Arabic while keeping Syriac for liturgical purposes. Today they are the largest of the Christian communities of Lebanon.
Anjar: Porticoes along Cardo Maximus with Byzantine (left) and Roman (right) capitals
Byzantine Emperor Heraclius engaged in a long war against the Sassanid Emperors of Persia who had occupied Syria, Palestine and Egypt. He managed to drive them off and eventually he defeated them in 627 in their own territory. He wanted to eradicate all Christian beliefs which did not entirely agree with the tenets of the 451 Council of Chalcedon and in doing so he lost the support of many citizens. In the 630s Muslim Arabs invaded Syria and Lebanon, and most of the cities offered only token resistance to their armies. Lebanon became a province of the Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus.
The Caliphs had a tolerant attitude towards the Christian communities and they employed local architects for the design of their mosques, palaces and towns. The ruins of the Umayyad town of Anjar, midway between Beirut and Damascus with their rectangular layout and long colonnades have the appearance of those of an ancient Roman town (e.g. Apamea).
Lebanon was conquered by the Crusaders between 1099 and 1124. The north became part of the County of Tripoli and the south of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. During the Crusaders' rule the Maronites began to accept papal supremacy while keeping their own patriarch and liturgy. French knights made up the largest contingents of the crusades and the interest of France in the region and its Christian population dates to this period, also owing to some poems which were written at the time.
Jaufré Rudel of Blaya was a very noble man, and lord of Blaya (Blaye in Aquitaine). He fell in love with the countess of Tripoli, sight unseen, because of all the good things that he heard pilgrims tell of her on their way back from Antioch. He made many songs about her with good melodies but poor lyrics. Out of desire to see her, he took up the cross and went to sea, but was taken ill while on board and was brought, near to death, to an inn in Tripoli. This was made known to the countess, and she came to his bed to see him, and took him into her arms. And he, having realized that she was the countess, at once recovered the faculties of hearing and smell, and praised God who had sustained his life until he could see her; and so he died in her arms.
The Vida of Jaufré Rudel - Translation by A. Z. Foreman
Today the presence of the Crusaders in Lebanon is testified to almost only by their fortresses.
Despite the fortresses of the Crusaders, the Muslims began to conquer back Lebanon after the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187. In 1291 the Mameluke Sultans of Egypt conquered St. John of Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the region and Lebanon became part of their possessions. They allowed limited autonomy to local leaders and encouraged trade. The coastal cities, especially Tripoli, flourished, and the Christian communities in the mountains were left free to manage their own affairs.
Tripoli retains an almost intact historical centre with many monuments of the Mameluke period and it is the "capital" of the Lebanese Sunni Muslim community (although West Beirut houses many Sunnis too).
Beiteddine Palace which was built by Emir Bashir Shihab II between 1788 and 1818: (left) Reception Hall; (right) a "tughra" a monogram, usually of the Ottoman Sultan
In 1516-1517 Ottoman Sultan Selim I defeated the Mamelukes and added Syria (with Lebanon) and Egypt to his vast Empire. The success of his campaigns was mainly due to the large use of firearms, which his enemies regarded as unfit for Muslim warriors. Lebanon was split between the eyalets of Damascus, which included the southern part of Lebanon, and that of Tripoli in the northern part of the country. In the XVIIth century an eyalet was established at Sidon to preside over the southernmost part of Lebanon and the northern part of Palestine. As a matter of fact the Ottoman government entrusted the actual rule of many provinces with pachas or emirs who established local dynasties. These pachas were often at war among them (or against the Sultan, e.g. Ali Pacha of Tepeleni). The Shihab, who controlled the Chouf, were rivals of Jazzar Pacha, governor of Sidon, who is best known for his defence of Acre against Napoleon.
For a long time the Ottoman Sultans did not care about the excavations carried out by European archaeologists and they allowed the shipment of ancient works of art and entire monuments to London, Paris, Berlin and other European cities. In the second half of the XIXth century the attitude of the Sultans changed and in 1869 the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul was created to house exhibits from all the provinces of the Empire, including some from Lebanon.
Beirut - Place de l'Etoile (1934)
France established alliances and friendly relations with the Ottoman Sultans since the reign of King Francis I. Over time the Kings of France were recognized by the Sultans as protectors of the Roman Catholics who lived in their Empire; this role was initially limited to the safeguard of small communities or of the Franciscans who were in charge of the Holy Sepulchre, but the more the Ottoman Empire weakened, the more France felt it had a right to intervene in favour of the Catholics. In 1860 a massacre of Maronites at Deir al-Qamar led Emperor Napoleon III to force the Sultan to issue a decree by which the region of Mount Lebanon became a mutasarrifate, an independent administrative unit. It was ruled by a Christian governor appointed by the Sultan, but with the approval of France and other European powers.
At the end of WWI France acquired control over Syria and Lebanon. In 1920 French authorities proclaimed the State of Greater Lebanon, the territory of which included other territories in addition to that of the mutasarrifate. The centre of Beirut was redesigned to make it resemble a Little Paris and the city became the capital of the new political entity which in 1926 was renamed Lebanese Republic (under French Mandate until 1943).
Louvre Museum: (left) statue of Jupiter Heliopolitanus from Baalbek (Sursock collection); (right) relief of Mithra surrounded by the zodiac signs from Sidon
French archaeological campaigns in Lebanon were initiated in 1860 by order of Emperor Napoleon III and they were increased in number and scope during the Mandate. French authorities promoted the sometimes excessive restoration of Crudaser castles (e.g. at Byblos), similar to what they did at Krak des Chevaliers in Syria.
National Museum of Beirut - Roman period tombs: (left) mask from Baalbek; (right) glass flask in the shape of Tyche, patron of cities, from Beirut
A number of ancient works of art were retained in Lebanon rather than being sold to foreign collectors or moved to France, but only in 1942 a proper museum was inaugurated in order to display them to the public.
Beirut: buildings along Damascus Road, the "Green Line", the demarcation line between Muslim and Christian militias during the Civil War
In 1946 Lebanon became an independent state. Unfortunately it has experienced many internal and external conflicts including a civil war which began in 1975 and through various phases lasted until 1990.
Beirut: Riviera Beach at Corniche Manara from my hotel room (see some postcards from today's Beirut)