anisha shah / Destination / globetrotter / journalist / Lebanon / Lebanon / review / Travel / travel writer / Uncategorized / world

A WALK THROUGH HISTORY; LEBANON’S RICH CONCOCTION OF INFLUENCES

"downtown" "beirut" "lebanon" "middle east" "ruins" "archaeology" "dig" "excavation" "roman" "ottoman" "phoenician" "church" solidere" "travel" "photography" "regeneration" "restoration"

BEIRUT / BEYROUTH

Wandering through Lebanon‘s capital Beirut, it’s easy to be wowed by the shiny new buildings, glistening marina, restaurant-filled Corniche and designer shops. But what truly is most impressive about this city is it’s history on display and the way in which the city seamlessly blends both old and new.
The Church in the photograph above was damaged in the war. The steeple is new whilst the main building is restored.
"bullet" "gunshot" "shelling" "museum" "beirut" "lebanon" "middle east" "ruins" "archaeology" "dig" "excavation" "roman" "ottoman" "phoenician" "church" solidere" "travel" "photography" "regeneration" "restoration"

The original columns outside the National Museum defiantly bear the wounds of war, Beirut, Lebanon

Explore any part of Beirut and you’ll most likely find remnants of the war and incredibly ancient ruins constantly being discovered during excavations.  Many, have been unveiled accidentally during regeneration works in the city, restoring or building new buildings, originally damaged or destroyed in war.

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La Place d’Etoile, off Solidere, monument in square, Downtown, Beirut, Lebanon

Some of these ruins have stunned archaeologists around the world and, rather than be re-built upon further, have been left on show as a walk through the rich varied history trail of Lebanon. They hark back to the Phoenician, Roman and Ottoman eras, with subtle distinctions between each.
"Roman baths" "Downtown" "Beirut" "Archaeology" "Lebanon" "Middle East" "ottoman" "roman" "phoenician" "crusader" "architecture" "oldest ruins" "ruins" "sights" "site" "dig" "regeneration" "restoration"

Roman baths excavated in 1960s, left on display in Downtown Beirut, Archaeology, Lebanon, Middle East

The most vivid example I come across is in the upmarket Downtown area, in front of Parliament, off La Place d’Etoile. The Roman Baths ruins were found in 1968. Nearly a decade later, major cleaning and excavation work took place to clearly bring to light the foundations of the baths. I see brick columns and tunnels. My guide explains that these would have acted as the floor support and allowed the heat to radiate. The sides of the baths are lined with terraces and benches, for all to sit and ponder a while at the historic marvel.

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Ruins of a Roman market, Corinthian colonnades, Downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Middle East

Just around the corner and down a little walkway, next to the Maronite Cathedral of Saint George, we come across five spectacular tall columns. They’re distinctly Roman in style.
The Roman Cardo Maximus are the remains of a Roman market in Beirut. They were found in the early 1960s and date back to the 2nd century AD! Seeing the Church in the foreground, the Roman ruins in the centre and Mohammad Al Amin mosque in the background, all within a ston’e s throw of each other, is clear indication as to the blend of influences living side by side in Lebanon.
"mohammad al amin" "mosque" "downtown" "beirut" "beyrouthe" "lebanon" "middle east" "religious" "building" "sights" "to see" "city" "must see" "striking" "hariri" "prime minister lebanon"

Mohammad Al Amin mosque, striking from every angle, Downtown, Beirut, Lebanon

Walking back round towards Martyrs Square or Place des Martyrs, I notice a large white marquee, erected next to the Mohammad Al Amin mosque, which looks magical from every angle. I ask what’s inside and am guided in to the memorial shrine of Rafik Hariri, the late Prime Minister of Lebanon. He was assassinated in Beirut in 2005. As a much-loved figure and national politician for the Lebanese, this spot marks his resting place for all to pay respects. It’s a beautiful and sombre abode, next to the mosque which he vowed to build.
"memorial" "shrine" "hariri" "prime minister lebanon" "assassination" "mohammad al amin" "mosque" "politician" Beirut" "lebanon" "middle east" "travel" "history" "legacy" "heritage"

Memorial shrine of late Lebanon PM Rafik Haririr, who was assassinated in 2005. Lebanese pay respects to a much-loved politician. Shrine is next to the mosque he vowed to build, Beirut, Lebanon.

Directly opposite; an unmissable centrepiece in Martyrs Square. The statue honours Lebanese nationalists who were hanged by the Ottomans who ruled during the First World War. It’s a nod to 1915-16 when there was a revolt against the Ottoman Turks, who were said to have caused a food shortage in Lebanon. The result was hanging of many intellectuals and nationalists.
The bronze Martyrs statue was inaugurated in 1960 and is one of the few remaining reminders of Martyrs Square. It is now covered in bullet holes from the civil war.
"place des martyrs" "martyrs square" "monument" "freedom" "civil war" "shelling" "liberty"

‘Place des Martyrs’, Martyrs Square monument to freedom and spirit, Downtown, Beirut, Lebanon

These ruins (and more) come as little delights around every corner for any traveller keen to learn the history of a country. They’re best explored with a local guide, who can not only explain in detail the meanings and siginificance but, also answer questions that will undoubtedly come up the more you learn. My female guide is fantastically well-informed and massively passionate about her country. She’s the perfect person to lead me through thousands of years of Lebanon’s history.
"mohammad al amin" "mosque" "downtown" "beirut" "lebanon" "middle east" "ruins" "acchitecture" "history" "legacy" "hariri" "prime minister" "civil war" "restoration"

Mohammad Al Amin mosque, Beirut, Downtown, Lebanon, Middle East

All the ruins are set against a backdrop of war reminders. Between every few new glass-fronted architectural designer buildings, I can’t help but notice the buildings defying the odds, covered in holes from bullets and shelling, yet still standing upright, awaiting either demolishing or regeneration.  They’re rather nostalgic reminders, though. I can’t deny an air of romance; adding a real depth and beauty to Beirut, through celebrating it’s past for all to see and feel. I think of it as therapy; facing the past rather than pretending it never were, to help the process of recovery and, in the process, develop a mental strength and confidence from it. That strength of character is evident in the Lebanese of today.
"beach" "beirut" "lebanon" "middle east" "byblos" "Beach club" "ruins" "UNESCO" "Heritage site" "colonnades" "roman" "phoenician" "ottoman" "crusader" "archaeology" "excavation" "restoration" "regenration" "temple" "gebal" "nightlife" "sights to see" "things to see" "visitor attractions"

UNESCO World Heritage Site ruins in ancient city Byblos, Lebanon

Given the political sensitivities, visiting Lebanon anytime now is not the best to see the historic sights near the North and South borders, Tyre, Tripoli and Baalbeck in the Beqa’a Valley, I’m told, are off limits, not necessarily unsafe but advised against by the FCO. But one unmissable spot that’s perfectly safe to visit is Byblos. Also known as ‘Gebal‘ to the locals, it’s a half hour drive North of Beirut, past stunning coastline and mountain scenery.
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Quaint buildings: museums, churches & galleries in Byblos historic quarter, Lebanon

BYBLOS: FROM WHICH THE WORD ‘BIBLE’ IS DERIVED, UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Unsure of what to expect from Byblos, having read so much about the site, I’m bowled over by the cute and quaint village-style coastal city that it is. The instant I step foot into the historic city, I know I’ve discovered my idea of heaven. If I lived in Lebanon, this is where I’d choose to reside, as close to the historic quarter as possible. It’s perfectly pretty and gives that ‘entering a postcard’ feel. I can’t distinguish a direct similarity; somewhere between a French, Greek, Spanish and Italian traditional coastal city, centred around it’s ancient port.
"church" "gallery" "byblos" "lebanon" "gebal" "middle east" "ruins" "UNESCO" "heritage" "archaeology" "excavation" "dig" "history" "bible" "roman" "ottoman" "crusader" "ottoman turks" "phoenician" "tomb" "colonnade" "columns" "temple" "sights to see" "things to see" "visitor attractions" "travel" "explore"

Church building, Byblos, Historic Quarter, Gebal, Lebanon, Middle East

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The Bible takes it’s name from the word Byblos.
Walking past the St John the Baptist Church, I spot the entrance to Byblos Souk, one of the oldest in Lebanon, at the start of the Historic Quarter.
 "souk" "market" "bazaar" "byblos souk" "lebanon souk" "middle east souk" "spices" "jewellery" "food" "drink" "byblos" "lebanon" "gebal" "middle east" "ruins" "UNESCO" "heritage" "archaeology" "excavation" "dig" "history" "bible" "roman" "ottoman" "crusader" "ottoman turks" "phoenician" "tomb" "colonnade" "restaurant byblos" "bar byblos" "sights to see" "things to see" "visitor attractions" "travel" "explore"
I’m slightly distracted by the colours and fragrances  within the souk and end up making some unplanned purchases. If you love jewellery with an ethnic and boho feel, take some extra time here as the shops do have some beautiful one-off pieces you simply wouldn’t find in the UK, or would be able to buy for a small fortune. Here, bartering is normal so go for it, as long as it’s a fair offer.
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One-off pieces of boho ethnic-inspired jewellery at Byblos souk market, Lebanon

The scents of spices and fragrances fill the air through the narrow cobbled street. I gravitate towards a spice shop that’s a little haven of all that’s wonderful about food. The owner sells me some Iranian Saffron in a cute little jar.
"saffron" "souk" "byblos souk" "spices" "byblos" "lebanon" "gebal" "middle east" "ruins" "UNESCO" "heritage" "archaeology" "excavation" "dig" "history" "bible" "roman" "ottoman" "crusader" "ottoman turks" "phoenician" "bar restaurant" "shopping" "market" "bazaar" "sights to see" "things to see" "visitor attractions" "travel" "explore"

Spices in sacks at Byblos souk market, in the historic quarter, Lebanon

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Spices in sacks at Byblos souk market, in the historic quarter, Lebanon

A quaint spice shop inside Byblos souk market, in the historic quarter, Lebanon
"saffron" "souk" "byblos souk" "spices" "byblos" "lebanon" "gebal" "middle east" "ruins" "UNESCO" "heritage" "archaeology" "excavation" "dig" "history" "bible" "roman" "ottoman" "crusader" "ottoman turks" "phoenician" "bar restaurant" "shopping" "market" "bazaar" "sights to see" "things to see" "visitor attractions" "travel" "explore" "chilli"
Further along, down some broken steps, I enter the archaeological site, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s one of the oldest Phoenician cities, now featuring Phoenician ruins and those of the layers of successive civilizations, including Roman and Crusader. The site is partially surrounded by the Medieval city wall.
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Byblos archaeological site, designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, inside the Historic Quarter in Gebal, Lebanon.

It’s awe-inspiring knowing just how old this site and these ruins are. With clear signposting and plaques detailing the histories, I pass the Phoenician tombs and Temple of the Obelisks (1600BC) and catch glimpse of the impressive Crusader Castle.
"medieval" "ruins" "byblos" "bible" "archaeology" "UNESCO" "heritage" "Roman" "Ottoman" "Phoenician" "Crusader" "Castle" "excavation" "dig" "sights" "things to see" "visitor attractions" "tomb" "colonnade" "beirut" "history" "port" "coastal city" "travel" "world" "wanderlust" "photography"

Temple Obelisks, Byblos, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Historic Quarter, Gebal, Lebanon

"medieval" "ruins" "byblos" "bible" "archaeology" "UNESCO" "heritage" "Roman" "Ottoman" "Phoenician" "Crusader" "Castle" "excavation" "dig" "sights" "things to see" "visitor attractions" "tomb" "colonnade" "beirut" "history" "port" "coastal city" "travel" "world" "wanderlust" "photography"

Phoenician Tomb, Byblos archaeology excavation, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gebal, Lebanon

But first, a pretty old house with red roofing starts to become apparent. I instantly recognise it from my readings and run over.
"temple bala'at" "gebal" "ruins" "byblos" "bible" "archaeology" "UNESCO" "heritage" "Roman" "Ottoman" "Phoenician" "Crusader" "Castle" "excavation" "dig" "sights" "things to see" "visitor attractions" "tomb" "colonnade" "beirut" "history" "port" "coastal city" "travel" "world" "wanderlust" "photography"

Temple of Bala’at Gebal Byblos UNESCO World Heritage Site & building of the Ottoman Turks, ruins, Lebanon

The remaining ruins before it are the Temple of Balaat Gebal , dating back to 2700BC. In the midst of this sprawling barren site, covered in heath and scrub, the building appears splendid in it’s utter isolation. A picture of perfection, backed by the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, facing a sunny sandy beach and in the distance, dark moody mountains.
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Byblos, archaeological site, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lebanon

It’s a fine historic house from the days when the Ottoman Turks ruled. I run up the steps to the door. It’s locked so the inside is sealesd off to the public. As I peer in through a crack in the door, I see restoration works. From the oustide it’s surreal. This isolated building, dominating the most beautiful spot in Byblos. To think it’s still standing and still looks pretty, is quite incredible.
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Temple of Bala’at Gebal Byblos UNESCO World Heritage Site & building of the Ottoman Turks, ruins, Lebanon

Climb up the steps if you can.  The views from this spot are astounding; Lebanon’s true beauty is at it’s best here – sea, mountains, ruins and beach.
From here, I also spot the one most photographed image of Byblos, the Roman Corinthian-style Colonnades. They’re set in marble with Greek style friezes.
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Roman Colonnades, Byblos, Gebal, Lebanon

The Roman Amphitheatre occupies an equally scenic spot. It’s a reconstruction of the original Roman theatre. The acoustics are being demonstrated by a group of tourists who perform their very best karaoke renditions of Whitney Houston.
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Amphitheatre, not original but restored, Byblos, Gebal,Lebanon.

The Crusader’s fortified castle is vast. It was built by the Franks in the 12th century, to protect and defend the port. The original moat was drained by the Ottoman Turks and visitors can access the castle by a walkway they built.
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Crusaders castle, Byblos archaeological site, Historic Quarter, Gebal, Lebanon

I wander through the darkened corridors and up several sets of stairs, to sumptuous panoramic views across Byblos and the hills of Lebanon. What a remarkable country.
"amphitheatre" "byblos" "lebanon" "beirut" "middle east" "undesco" "world heritage site" "history" "archaeology" "excavation" "architecture" "roman" "ottoman" "phoenician"

A tranquil moment, spot with a view on the archaeological site Byblos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Roman, Phoenician and Ottoman ruins, Gebal, Lebanon

One aspect you’ll undoubtedly notice about Byblos is that it’s vibrant and exciting, with tons of atmosphere.

The city acts as a hub for young people rather than a haunting shell as has become of so many ruins sights across the world.
More than an ancient port and ruins, it’s an upmarket trendy buzzing city with stunning open-air restaurants, bars and coffee shops. I have the best Crab salad on the sea at a restaurant called Mhanna and a delightfully refreshing Fresh Mint Lemonade at a trendy cafe by the castle.
With hip beach clubs playing the latest chart music, it’s a surreal setting hearing and seeing that from the archaeological site, of some of the world’s oldest ruins. But rather than being annoying, it just adds to the eclectic quirkiness that Lebanon truly is. It reminds you this is the Mediterranean coast. I actually find it heart-warming to know that a city founded on the oldest ruins, dating back thousands of years, is inhabited and frequented more than ever by younger generations of Lebanon, and hasn’t fallen into disrepair or turned into a haunting ghost town as so many ruins sites become. Byblos is a hip place to hang out on the weekend and a must-see to get away from Beirut for a while.
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Byblos, Gebal in Lebanon, Middle East, archaeological site of ROman, Pheonician & ottoman Crusader ruins & excavation

Wandering back through the city I feel sad to wave goodbye to a gorgeous Mediterranean village setting with picture-perfect buildings, from monumental temples of the Bronze Age, to the Persian fortifications, the Roman road, Byzantine churches, the Crusade citadel and the Medieval and Ottoman town.
"port" "coast" "beach" "mountains" "byblos" "gebal" "lebanon" "middle east" "sights" "historic" "quaint" "coastal" "city" "port" "ruins" "archaeoloy" "excavation" Bar" "restaurant" "middle east

Stunning rooftops of ancient coastal city & port Byblos, Gebal, Lebanon

It’s simply staggering that all this is interspersed with the funkiest trendiest open-air lounge bars for fresh juices and Mediterranean cuisine to die for!
"bar" "restaurant" "minted lemonade" "sheesha" "byblos" "gebal" "lebanon" "middle east" "food" "drink" "nightlife"

Funky bar / restaurant in heart of Historic Quarter, Byblos, Gebal, Lebanon

From here, I head to the trendiest lunch spot in the city. It overhangs the stunning Mediterranean coast and serves up the most delectable Lebanese ezze, red wine and flavoured Hookah. Such an idyllic spot to soak up the afternoon sunshine and enjoy a feast. ‘Mhanna-Sur-Mer’ is just one of thousands of incredible restaurants, bars and Hookah cafes…NEXT POST: WHERE TO EAT, DRINK AND SOCIALISE IN BEIRUT & LEBANON.  

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