Jbeil / Byblos
Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) is one of the top contenders for the "oldest continuously inhabited city" award.
According to Phoenician tradition it was founded by the God El, and even the Phoenicians considered it a city of great antiquity. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least 7,000 years. Ironically, the words "Byblos" and "Phoenicia" would not have been recognized by the city's early inhabitants.
For several thousand years it was called "Gubla" and later "Gebal," while the term "Canaan" was applied to the coast in general. It was the Greeks, sometime after 1200 B.C., who gave us the name "Phoenicia," referring to the coastal area. And they called the city "Byblos" ("papyrus" in Greek), because this commercial center was important in the papyrus trade.
Today, Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) 37 kilometers north of Beirut, is a prosperous place with glass-fronted office buildings and crowded streets. But within the old town, medieval Arab and crusader remains are continuous reminders of the past. Nearby are the extensive excavations that make Byblos one of the most important archaeological sites in the area.
About 7,000 years ago, a small Neolithic fishing community settled along the shore and several of their mono cellular huts with crushed limed stone floors can be seen on the site. Many tools and weapons of this Stone Age period have been found as well.
The Catalytic Period (4,000-3,000 B.C.) saw a continuation of the same way of life, but brought with it new burial customs where the deceased were laid in large pottery jars and buried with their earthly possessions.
By the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (about 3000 B.C.), Canaanite Byblos had developed into the most important timber shipping center on the eastern Mediterranean and ties with Egypt were very close. The pharaohs of the Old Kingdom needed the cedar and other wood for shipbuilding, tomb construction and funerary ritual. In return, Egypt sent gold, alabaster, papyrus rope, and linen. Thus began a period of prosperity, wealth and intense activity.
About this same time the scribes of Byblos developed an alphabetic phonetic script, the precursor of our modern alphabet. By 800 B.C., it had traveled to Greece, changing forever the way man communicated. The earliest form of the Phoenician alphabet found to date is the inscription on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos.
Throughout the first millennium B.C., Byblos continued to benefit from trade in spite of Assyrian and Babylonian encroachments. Then, came the Persians who held away from 550-330 B.C. The remains of a fortress outside the Early Bronze Age city walls from this period show that Byblos was a strategic part of the Persian defense system in the eastern Mediterranean.
Under Arab rule beginning 637 A.D, Byblos was generally peaceful but it had declined in importance over the centuries and archeological evidence from this period is fragmentary.
In 1104, Byblos fell to the Crusaders who came upon large stones and granite columns of the Roman buildings and used them for their castle and moat. With the departure of the Crusaders, Byblos continued under Mamluke and Ottoman rule as a small fishing town, and its antiques remains were gradually covered with dust.
Before Byblos was excavated, the ruins of successive cities had formed a mound about 12 meters high covered with houses and gardens. The ancient site was rediscovered in 1860 by the French writer Ernest Renan, who made a survey of the area. In 1921-1924, Pierre Montet, a French Egyptologist, began excavations which confirmed trade relations between Byblos and ancient Egypt. Maurice Dunand began his work in Byblos in 1925, and continued with various campaigns until 1975.
A thriving modern town with an ancient heart, Byblos is a mix of sophistication and tradition. The old harbor is sheltered from the sea by a rocky headland. Nearby are the excavated remains if the ancient city, the Crusader castle and church and the old market area.
For a real taste of Byblos, stroll through the streets and byways. This part of town is a collection of old walls (some medieval) overlapping properties and intriguing half ruins. The area of excavations is surrounded by a wall with the entrance at the Crusader castle. To get a good view of this large, somewhat complex site, either climb to the top of castle or walk around the periphery from outside the wall to identify the major monuments. After visiting the archeological site, a quick and entertaining introduction to Lebanon's past can be found at the Wax Museum near the castle. The wax figures illustrate scenes from the history and rural life of the country, there is a modest entrance fee. With its many restaurants, snack bars, souvenir shops, hotels, and public garden, Byblos is always well prepared to welcome tourists.
Throughout the years, Jbeil did not lose its reputation; thousands of people from across the world visit Lebanon yearly, and mark Jbeil as their number one destination to experience and explore.
Today, Jbeil is a thriving modern city that still retains its historical past. Byblos is always an art workshop visited by art lovers coming from all around the world to enjoy the international festivals inlaid with an oriental taste and combining authenticity with modernization! Byblos will always be the letter and the word, the melody and the note, the endless symphony of love, joy and life! It's an inexhaustible overflow of thought, beauty, and passion, an overflow that won't dry up as long as Byblos heart is beating.