The ruins of an ancient town at Byblos in Lebanon – video

When I toured Lebanon last summer we drove an hour north out of Beirut to stop at the coastal town of Byblos or Jbeil which is ideal to visit as a day trip. The city has a long history and became important as a city state and trading port under the Phoenicians thousands of years before the birth of Christ.

The crusader castle at Byblos in Lebanon

The crusader castle at Byblos in Lebanon

The city’s name is thought to derive from the Greek word bublos meaning papyrus, as it was a stopping off place for papyrus shipments on their way to Egypt and the linear alphabet is thought to have been invented here as a way of recording trade transactions. Apparently the name of the Bible derives from the same source as it was the book made of Papyrus.

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The archaeological site and crusader castle that you visit today is only a small part of the ancient city and was excavated in the last century by French archaeologist Maurice Dunand and others from the 1920s onwards. At that time the site was covered by houses just as the rest of the area is now and many families had to be moved and houses cleared to enable the archaeological work to begin.

The crusader castle at Byblos in Lebanon

The crusader castle at Byblos in Lebanon

Roman ampitheatre at Byblos in Lebanon

Roman ampitheatre at Byblos in Lebanon

When we arrived at the site and paid our entrance fee we decided that we needed some help to make sense of the ruins and found our guide, Wahid who had his young son with him and took us around showing us all the points of interest – without a guide I don’t think we’d have got nearly as much out of the visit.

He told us how the archaeological work required the building of a railway track, now somewhat overgrown, in order to enable the earth to be removed from the remains more easily. The site contains layer upon layer of different civilisations who all built one on top of the other, stealing stone from each older building to construct their own. Even the archaeologists moved some of the things they uncovered such as the Roman ampitheatre, re-locating them to other parts of the site, so that they could excavate the older buildings beneath.

Stone Sarcophagus at Byblos in Lebanon

Stone Sarcophagus at Byblos in Lebanon

The entrance to the site is dominated by the crusader castle built from enormous blocks of stone in the 12th century and with towers that have been more recently restored, with wonderful views from the terrace out to sea. There is a Roman ampitheatre which was originally much larger and has been moved to its current location overlooking the sea from a different part of the site where it was sitting on top of an ancient temple.

Another interesting feature of the site are the royal tombs of the Phoenician kings dating back to 1200 BC,  who were contemporaries of the Egyptian Pharohs. Some of the heavy stone sarcophogus have been moved to museums but we ventured down some steep steps to take a look inside the stone tomb of one that was too difficult to move, although its broken edges showed that someone had tried hard to see what treasure might be inside.

Crusader castle at Byblos in Lebanon

Crusader castle at Byblos in Lebanon

Wandering around the site at Byblos , covered with grass and bougainvillea made me realise what a peaceful place this coastline would have been before Beirut became such a fast growing city, with appartment blocks encroaching up the coast and nibbling at the edges of the town.

A music and cultural festival is held every summer in Byblos and was originally held on this site, but had been moved to a purpose built theatre by the sea to prevent any deterioration of the remains. This is a highlight of the summer in Lebanon as music festivals are held all over Lebanon in the ancient and historical sites such as Bettadine and Baalbek – although my friend who attended an operatic performance  told me that the Lebanese lady in front of her chatted all the way through.

Have you visited Lebanon? If so do share your stories – I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

More places to see in Lebanon

Road Block etiquette in Lebanon
Wine tasting stop at Chateau Ksara – in Lebanon
A lacklustre lunch at Pepe’s Byblos Fishing Club – in Lebanon


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Road Block etiquette in Lebanon

April 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Lebanon, World

If you visit Lebanon, you’ll probably be wowed by the buzzy atmosphere of Beirut, get lost in the Souks of Sidon or love the gorgeous mountain scenery on the Lebanon mountain trail, but you may just be a little taken backs to find a number of roadblocks and police check points as you travel around the country.

Police checkpoint in Sidon in Lebanon

Police checkpoint in Sidon in Lebanon

It’s a reminder that although Beirut is currently a safe place to visit, it’s not always been so, and that political stability in this part of the world can sometimes be a little fragile. But you shouldn’t worry unduly about passing through army road-blocks and check-points. They’re a fact of life for the locals who take them in their stride and you should see them as a sign that the government wants to protect you and the local population from harm.

I was surprised to find how easy it is to drive around Lebanon, with road signs mostly in English and Arabic, good roads and maps, and although I was driven by a friend who lives in Beirut, I wouldn’t have minded hiring a car to get around. If you do a tour of the country like we did, you’ll inevitably pass through some road checkpoints, in which case you should slow down or stop until waved on by the guards.

If you’re in a hire car or are obviously a tourist it’s unlikely that you’ll be stopped, but you should always travel with your passport just in case, even when driving around Beirut (although with the mad traffic, I wouldn’t recommend that). If you’re walking around the downtown area of Beirut you may also pass through police points and may have your bag checked. A polite smile doesn’t hurt and you’ll find that some guards will studiously ignore you and keep a stern face while others appear more relaxed – remembering they’ve got a serious job to do. It’s obviously not advisable to take any photos of the guards or checkpoints either.

I suppose that when travelling with my friend, two ladies in a car with diplomatic plates were unlikely to receive the full stop and search treatment, while younger guys or men in groups may come in for more attention.

Have you been to any places where armed road blocks and police checks were common and what were your experiences?

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This photo was posted for Photo Friday - hosted at Delicious Baby – head over to see all the oher Friday photos.

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More Lebanon stories to enjoy

Sea-castles, Souks and Soap in Sidon
The cedars of Lebanon – Tannourine Cedars Reserve Video
St Anthony’s Monastery in Qozhaya in Lebanon

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Don’t fall in the Baatara Pothole, near Tannourine in Lebanon – video

March 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Lebanon, Leisure, Nature, video, Walking, World

On my visit to Lebanon last June, I walked the mountain trails of the Tannourine Cedar reserve and afterwards stopped to take a look at the Baatara pothole – you can view my video about the pothole below.

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The pothole is located near the village of Tannourine el Fawqa, a short drive from the Tannourine Cedar Reserve and close to the Lebanon Mountain Trail, a long distance walking trail that runs from north to south of the country. We stopped at what appeared to be a random location at the roadside, marked by a large sign that gave information about the pothole, and then walked down some steep paths into an area surrounded on all sides by steep cliffs.

At the Baatara Pothole, Tannourine, Lebanon

At the Baatara Pothole, Tannourine, Lebanon

There were able to walk right into the open cave system with a stream falling from the roof and stand on the limestone bridges over the deep pothole below. I felt rather nervous walking so close to the edge of the precipice although others were rather more brave (or foolhardy) including our guide who scrambled around the edge of the borehole and along a narrow ledge to point out a cave on the far side.

Baatara pothole, near Tannourine, Lebanon

Baatara pothole, near Tannourine, Lebanon

The pothole was first explored in 1952 and was fully mapped in the 1980s by the Spelio Club. Water has carved the pothole and rock formations out of the surrounding Jurassic limestone as water from a nearby stream infiltrated and dissolved the rock to form the stone bridges and cave over the pothole. There is a whole underground system of passages, which continue to evolve as the rock freezes and thaws in winter, and in order to protect the pothole from unwanted development and contamination, the whole site is now protected.

Baatara Pothole, near Tannourine in Lebanon

Baatara Pothole, near Tannourine in Lebanon

On a beautiful sunny day with the spring flowers still in bloom, I felt lucky to be able to see these natural rock formations without having to share it with crowds of tourists. Although there were quite a few of us in the group on our day trip from Beirut, I believe that if you went there on your own by car you’d be likely to have the whole place to yourself.

More Lebanon articles to enjoy
The Cedars of Lebanon – Tannourine Cedars Reserve Video
Wine tasting stop at Chateau Ksara – in Lebanon
Sea-castles, souks and soap in Sidon – in Lebanon

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