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Byblos: Ancient Crossroads of the Mediterranean


Historians believe that the site of Byblos dates back at least 7,000 years (beginning around 5,000-4,000 BC), when a small Neolithic fishing community settled along the shore of the Mediterranean. From that period onward, new settlers brought new ways of life and new customs, leaving a variety of artifacts and the remnants of houses and buildings that trace the city’s ancient history. Today’s visitors can see the remains of several Stone Age huts with crushed limestone floors, the foundations of Chalcolithic houses (4,000-3,000 BC), the vestiges of an Early Bronze Age residence, and the remains of ancient Phoenician defensive ramparts and temples.   


By around 3,000 BC, Byblos was inhabited by Canaanites, or Phoenicians, and became the first Phoenician city to trade actively with the Egyptian Old Kingdom.Byblos developed into the most important commercial center in the eastern Mediterranean, trading cedar, olive oil, and wine for gold, alabaster, papyrus, and other goods from the Egyptian pharaohs.In the royal necropolis at Byblos can be found the nine underground tombs of the Byblos kings. 

Perhaps the Phoenicians’ most impressive contribution to the world is the development of the first alphabetic phonetic script, the precursor of the modern-day alphabet. It is believed that scholars of Byblos developed the Phoenician alphabet. The oldest evidence of the Phoenician alphabet discovered to date is the inscription on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos (1,200 BC), which is now on display at the National Museum in Beirut. 

Following the conquest by Alexander the Great, Byblos fell under Greek rule and adopted the Greek language and culture. The Greeks  gave the city its name of Byblos, which means “papyrus,” or “paper.” The city was an important center for papyrus, on which many religious texts, public documents, private letters, astronomical, and mathematical texts were written.

 In the first century BC, the Romans took Byblos, and constructed large temples, baths, and other buildings. Artifacts of the Roman era include the remains of a Roman theater (218 AD), columns lining the ancient colonnaded street, and a Roman nympheum (a monumental public fountain). Roman rule in Byblos was followed by Byzantine rule (395-637 AD) and then Arab rule (637-1104 AD). There are few archaeological remains of these periods.

In 1104, Byblos was conquered by the Crusaders, who used the large Roman stones and columns to construct their own castle and a moat. This castle was later reused and renovated by the Mamlukes (13th-16th centuries AD) and the Ottomans (16th-20th centuries AD). Today, the 12th century crusader castle towers over the Byblos ruins, and climbing to the top of the castle is an excellent vantage point for taking in a panoramic view of the ruins and the Mediterranean Sea. 

Before Byblos was excavated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these layers of ruins were buried in earth, forming a mound nearly 12 meters high, and covered with houses and gardens. Over the last 

century, historians have excavated the site, digging through each layer of stone and earth to uncover a unique period of history in this port city. Modern visitors to Byblos can undertake their own historical excavation here, exploring the layers of ruins and artifacts to unearth the ancient civilizations of Lebanon.




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