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Lebanon

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    Sidon, 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 antiquities markets.
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 survive.

 

The largest 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 states.
    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)

 

Like other Phoenician city states, Sidon suffered from a succession of conquerors.
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 conflagration.
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,

 

the "holy city" of Phoenicia, enjoyed relative freedom and organized games and competitions in which the greatest athletes of the region participated.    
    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 forces.
    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.

 

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