Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lebanon’s piece of history: Byblos

Byblos: One of the world's continuously inhabited cities
May 8 turned out to be my blue-ribbon Sunday in Lebanon. It was the day my friends -- Jennifer Haddad, Bahaa Fakhriddeen, George Zamroud, Antonio Tahhan, Salvador Rudy and Charbel Saad – elected to drive me north.

The day’s hors d’oeuvre was a succulent breakfast at Abdul-Rahman Hallab & Sons in the port city of Tripoli (Lebanon: The day we drove north – 14 May 2011). Next came the entrée with the discovery of one of Lebanon’s wonder spots, Oyoun el-Samak (A Lebanese wonder: Oyoun el-Samak – 16 May 2011). We had our main course and dessert at another Lebanese wonder spot: Byblos.
The number of wonders that this country of 10,452 square kilometers holds is remarkable. During my one-month stint in Lebanon that ended May 17, I was fortunate to visit Tripoli, Oyoun el-Samak and Byblos. So the Cedars, Jeita Grotto, Qadisha Valley, and Anjar are next on my agenda.

Byblos, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is the Greek name of the Phoenician city Geval, or Gibelet during the Crusades. It is believed to be one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities since the Chalcolithic period, or Copper Age.

Yachts still cruise into Byblos harbor
Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) -- on the Mediterranean coast, some 42 kilometers (26 miles) north of Beirut -- is a must destination for tourist and a locals’ favorite. It is renowned for its restaurants, open-air bars and outdoor cafés. Yachts still cruise into its harbor as they did in the Sixties and Seventies, when Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra were regular visitors.

The city is internationally known for hosting the annual Byblos International Festival in the historic quarter. The June 28-July 23, 2011 edition will feature international and Lebanese acts, including Amadou and Mariam, Moby, Scorpions, Jamie Cullum, 30 Seconds to Mars, Don Quixote and Les Mystères Lyriques. Preparations for the event have already started and the stands are being assembled.

Byblos also hosts the professional campus of the Lebanese American University (LAU). The Byblos Campus is home to the Medical, Engineering, and Pharmacy Schools, besides the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business.

Ruins and history everywhere in the old city
We arrived at the port city around 5 p.m. as the sun was beginning to set and shimmer over the Mediterranean and headed straight for a late lunch, after all the walking in Oyoun el-Samak.

Ready for lunch: Jen, George, Antonio, Charbel, Rudy and Bahaa
Appetizers, with our own mini taboun to heat the bread
My delicious shawarma platter
Among the many restaurants and cafés, George chose Feniqia. I was impressed by the creativity in presentation of the food, whether the starters or the main dishes, as you can judge from the photos. I found the mini taboun to heat the bread at the table a brilliant idea. Food was delicious and reasonably priced, our meal costing $10 (or AED 37) per head. Even the rest rooms have a special touch – olive oil soaps framed in a sieve and hung on the wall -- and stone basins with copper taps.

Tummies full, we walked through the streets of Byblos, passing by the Baptistery of the Crusades Church of St. John, where preparations were underway for a wedding.

Baptistery of the Crusades Church of St. John
Sultan Abdel Majid Mosque, build in 1648
Work on St. John the Baptist Church started during the crusades in 1116. It was partially destroyed during an earthquake in 1176 and transformed into stables by Islamic forces after the fall of the city. Prince Yousef Chehab of Lebanon gifted it to the Maronites in the mid 1700s, after they helped him capture the city.

Past St. John’s is the 1648 Sultan Abdel Majid Mosque. Its minaret and renovated turquoise dome can be seen from various points in the old part of the city and there is a small ladies-only annex. The Mamluks built the original mosque on this site. It dates from the 12th Century AD.

The streets of the old city lined with shops...
... cafes and restaurants
The narrow cobbled streets are lined with shops, restaurants and cafés, each with a special, original touch, as only the Lebanese know how to create.

Nossa Senhora da Penna, one of the smallest churches I've seen
We walked down to the port and towards the jetty, where people were fishing and strolling about, enjoying the warm and sunny Sunday weather. We passed by old buildings and walls that have been standing there for centuries. Among them is the Nossa Senhora da Penna Church, one of the smallest I’ve ever seen. It only has four pews and is so small that worshippers sit outdoors.

The Crusader Castle
The earliest remains found in Byblos, founded by Cronus, are from around 6230 BC. It was during the First Crusade in 1098 that prosperity returned to Byblos. The remains of the Crusader Castle are among the most impressive structures now visible at its center.

The Crusader Castle, off the port
... is magical at sunset
Viewing the Castle at sunset was magical and a perfect way to end a breathtaking day. Thank you Jennifer, Bahaa, George, Antonio, Rudy and Charbel.

It's time to head back to Beirut. Goodbye Byblos
You can join our tour of Byblos in these pictures.

Related posts:
Breakfast in Sidon – 30 November 2010
Bahibak ya Libnan – 22 November 2010