on the coast 48 kilometers south of Beirut, is one of the Famous names
in ancient history. But of all of Lebanon's cities this is the most
mysterious, for its past has been tragically scattered and plundered.
In the 19th century, treasure hunters and amateur archaeologists made
off with many of its most beautiful and important objects, some of which
can now be seen in foreign museums.
In this century too, ancient objects from Sidon (Saidoon is the
Phoenician name, Saida in Arabic), have turned up on the world's
Other traces of its history lie beneath the concrete of modern
constructions, perhaps buried forever.
The challenge for today's visitor to Sidon then is to recapture a sense
of this city's ancient glory from the intriguing elements that still
city in south Lebanon, Sidon is a busy commercial center with the
pleasant, conservative atmosphere of a small town. Since Persian times
this was known as the city of gardens and even today it is surrounded by
citrus and banana plantations.
A long and glorious history
There is evidence that Sidon was inhabited as long ago as 4000
B.C., and perhaps as early as Neolithic times (6000 - 4000 B.C.). The
ancient city was built on a promontory facing an island, which sheltered
its fleet from storms and served as a refuge during military incursions
from the interior. In its wealth, commercial initiative, and religious
significance, Sidon is said to have surpassed all other Phoenician city
Sidon's Phoenician period began in the 12th - 10th century B.C. and
reached its height during the Persian Empire (550 - 330 B.C.). The city
provided Persia, a great land power, with the ships and seamen to fight
the Egyptians and the Greek, a role that gave it a highly favored
position. The Persians maintained a royal park in Sidon and it was
during this time that the temple of Eshmoun was built.
Glass manufacture, Sidon's most important enterprise in the
Phoenician era, was conducted on a vast scale and the production of
purple dye was almost as important. The small shell of the Murex
trunculus was broken in order to extract the pigment that was so rare it
became the mark of royalty.
View of Sidon
(19th century engraving)
other Phoenician city states, Sidon suffered from a succession
At the end of the Persian era in 351 B.C., unable to resist the
superior forces of Artaxerxes III, the desperate Sidonians
locked their gates and set fire to their city rather than to
submit to the invader. More than 40,000 died in the
After the disaster the city was too weak to oppose the triumphal
march of Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. It sued for peace and
the Hellenistic age of Sidon began.
Under the successors of Alexander, Sidon,
city" of Phoenicia, enjoyed relative freedom and organized games and
competitions in which the greatest athletes of the region
When Sidon, like the other cities of Phoenicia, fell under Roman
domination, it continued to mint its own silver coins. The Romans also
built a theater and other major monuments in the city. During the
Byzantine period when the great earthquake of 551 A.D. destroyed most of
the cities of Phoenicia, Beirut's school of Law took refuge in Sidon.
The town continued quietly for the next century, until it was conquered
by the Moslems in 636.
In 1111 Sidon was besieged and stormed by the Crusader Baldwin, who
was soon to become King of Jerusalem. Under Frankish rule, the city
became the chief town of the Seigniory of Sagette and the second and the
four baronies of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem surrendered to Saladin in 1187, but it was re-occupied for
a hundred years when the Crusader Templars recaptured it briefly. They
abandoned it for good in 1291, after the fall of Acre to the Mamluke
In the 15th century, Sidon was one of the ports of Damascus and it
flourished once more during the 17th century when it was rebuilt by
Fakhreddine II, then ruler of Lebanon. Under his protection and
encouragement, French merchants set up profitable business enterprises
in Sidon for trade between France and Syria. By the beginning of the
19th century, however , Sidon was relatively obscure and remained so
until the mid-20th century when it developed into an important
commercial and agricultural center.