You can’t get to know Lebanon without going through some Phoenician history. And you can’t go through that history without visiting Byblos, which is not only one of the oldest Phoenician establishments but also one the most beautiful cities in the world.
At the very beginning there was Byblos.
While Rome is known to be the Eternal city, Byblos was, is and will always be the Never-Ending city.
“Byblos thought itself the oldest of all cities; the god El had founded it at the beginning of time, and to the end of its history it remained the religious capital of Phoenicia”. Historian Durant
“Our Phoenician ancestors never left anything they undertook unfinished. Consider what they accomplished in their days, and the degree of culture they attained”. Ameen Rihani
Truth to be told, the recent history of the republic of Lebanon might have been notorious of a past of war and terror yet the history of this land goes back very far to a time of adventure, sailing, culture, colonies and discoveries, back to an astonishing civilisation called the Phoenicians which is still engraved in our DNA and manifested in Lebanese cities like Byblos, Tyre and Sidon.
My ancestors, the”princes of the sea” have wandered around the Mediterranean sea establishing colonies all around the coast and exporting to the world not only the first linear alphabet but also wine. Yes people, you read well WINE! **May blessings be upon the Phoenicians who spread the alphabet, the books and the wine to the world***
Except this post will not be about Sidon and Tyre ***Other article alert*** but about Byblos and the following areas: Mab’Aj Grotto a small hidden gem in the mountains similar to the Jeita Grotto, Aanaya, for a pilgrimage visit to one of the most peaceful and miraculous places not only in Lebanon but also in the Catholic world. Last but not least, the beautiful bay called Jounieh.
Important information if you decide to drive yourself: Lebanon is a small country with horrific traffic. In order to avoid it for this part of the journey I advice you stay in hotels in Byblos.
Byblos: Famous for being the birthplace of the written word, it is considered the second oldest city in the world , Byblos was the ancient Phoenician port city of Gebal (called Byblos by the Greeks) on the coast of what is today Lebanon. Because papyrus was one of the principal articles in its trade, the Greeks took the name of the city as their word for book – biblos – and from their word for books was named our Bible – ta biblia – which means ‘the books’.
Between 1100 and 725 BC Byblos declined in importance as her sister city, Tyre, grew. After the conquest of the region by Alexander the Great, and the destruction of Tyre in 332 BCE, Byblos again prospered and became completely hellenized, adopting Greek culture, dress, and language. In 64 BC the region was conquered by the Roman general Pompey the Great and continued as a Roman colony from 64 BC – 395 AD. The Romans, as usual, improved upon the city they found, ordering the streets and building large temples, baths and civic gardens.
Things to do and see:
1-Crusader Castle: The most dominant and best preserved structure in the archaeological site is the Crusader Castle.
2-The archaeological site: It incorporates Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Greek and Roman ruins. Each passing civilisation constructed over the ruins of its predecessor. The site is the primary attraction in Byblos, and with its magnificent location overlooking the Mediterranean, is definitely must visit whether or not you are passionate about history and archaeology. Read more about it here
3-The old port: It is from this harbour that the “princes of the sea” wandered around the Mediterranean sea. The Phoenicians were great traders and navigators, and this combination of skills almost inevitably resulted in them establishing colonies wherever they went. The major Phoenician trade routes were by sea to the Greek islands, Italy, Malta and across southern Europe(Spain), down the Atlantic coast of Africa, and up to ancient Britain. In addition, Arabia and India were reached via the Red Sea and vast areas of Western Asia were connected to the homeland via land routes where goods were transported by caravans.
4-Church of Saint John the baptist: A beautiful Romanesque church, Saint Jean-Marc is the cathedral church of Jbail (Byblos), a town with a majority 80% Christian population. The church is dedicated to Saint John Mark, the patron saint of the town, who is said to have founded the first Christian community of Byblos. The church itself was built in 1115 AD by the Crusaders, originally as the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
5-The old souk: The old souks connect the centre of the city to the sea side. It is packed with restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and pubs.
6-Spend the day at the beach: The most reputable resort in Byblos is Edde Sands. There are others like Cflow, Phenix de Byblos, Byblos Sud. You can also find a couple of public beaches, especially one near the Crusader Castle called Al Ba7ssa.
7–Sunset drinks at Pépé Abed (Byblos Fishing Club). Totally worth it people! A lot of big celebrities have passed by this restaurant. You can find fading snaps of Marlon Brando, Brigitte Bardot, Frank Sinatra and Jacques Chirac jostle for wall space with dozens of other celebrities who happily posed with Pepe over the decades. There is also a little ‘museum’ with all the finds the owner pepe fished out of the sea -Pepe Abed was known as the Pirate of Byblos. Maybe a movie should be done about him…Hollywood, anyone?
8-The International byblos festival hosted one of the most influential artists in the pop world: Sia. I think it is enough said. Great Job Byblos!
- Byblos to MAB’AJ Grotto(21 minutes, 12 km)
MAB’AJ Grotto, one of Lebanon’s hidden gems, it was discovered in 1938. Speleologists walked inside it for several kilometers. They confirmed the existence of ponds and lakes in it that need small boats to cross them (Bruce Conde 1953) The geological survey of the site estimated the age of its rocks at almost 190 million years and that their present formation was completed during a period from 30 to 40 million years Its total length is estimated at 4500 meters. The cave will bewitch you with its natural sceneries, stalactites, stalagmites and the splendor of its statuettes: from Royal Thrones, Royal Crowns, The Time King and the Roman Eagle, plus chandeliers, bells, gongs, etc…
For pictures about the Grotto, click here
- Mab’aj Grotto to Aanaya (5.4 km-10 minutes)
Aanaya: You can drive to the Saint Maron Monastery – Sanctuary of Saint Charbel. In the region of Mount Lebanon of Jbeil, on a hill, which is regarded as one of the nicest hills in Lebanon, is a Monastery belonging to the Lebanese Maronite Order, known as St Maron Monastery – Annaya.
Today, thanks to St Charbel, St Maron’s monastery in Annaya has become a great national and international shrine where thousands of believers come to pray and repent, and to provide for their various spiritual needs. It is also a place where letters from all over the world are received to get the Lebanese Saint’s tangible grace or to seek his intercession. Read more about Saint Charbel and his miracles here.
Recommended restaurant: Al kanater
- Aanaya to Jounieh(35 km, 40 minutes)
Jounieh : I lived in Jounieh my entire life. It is one of those cities that has so much to offer. About 16 km north of Beirut and is part of Greater Beirut. Jounieh is known for its seaside resorts and bustling nightlife, as well as its old stone souk, ferry port, paragliding site and gondola lift (le téléphérique), which takes passengers up the mountain to the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa. Above Jounieh, and on the way to Harissa, a small hill named Bkerké (Arabic بكركي, or Bkerki), overlooking the Jounieh bay, is the seat of the Patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church. Residents of Jounieh and the surrounding towns are overwhelmingly Maronite Christians.
Things to do and see:
1- The beautiful old souk which is nowadays filled with pubs and restaurants.
2-The port of Jounieh with a beautiful view of the green mountains surrounding the area. You can also check the beautiful park facing it.
3-Spend the day at Punta del Este restaurant/beach club. It is one of my absolute favorite places to be in Summer. Everyone of my friends knows that.
Try to stay there till sunset , the happy hour drinks, the loungy music, the fresh air, and the magical site of the sun going to sleep makes this time of the day my favorite thing to do.
3-Take the Gondola lift from to Harissa Mountain where a big statue of the Virgin Mary is protecting its mountain. The view of the bay of Jounieh from the Gondola is breathtaking, especially the sunsets.
4– Jounieh is famous for had the awaited firework show which was held this year on the 14 of July and consists of 7 Minutes of Synchronized Fireworks along the coastal of Jounieh bay.
5-The Jounieh International Festival held a concert for the famous pop star: Jason Derulo. According to the local news, it was pretty ecstatic . Great job Jounieh!
6- Paragliding over the beautiful bay of Jounieh with Paragliding Club Thermique Both Erwin and I are planning to do it when we are back to Lebanon.