A charming harmonious chaos…
Today I’ve decided to tell you about my SUPER TRAVEL experience in the amazing country of Lebanon. And I am pretty sure you just had a little sigh when reading “Lebanon!!!!” and the first question to pop up your mind was something similar to But is it safe to travel there? Well, the answer is quite simple. Looking at the general picture of nowadays world’ safe to travel places, it’s impossible not to see that safety became rather a relative notion.
But my purpose here is not focused on disseminating the political situation of Lebanon thus, if you want to have a more detailed insight regarding travelling and visiting Lebanon I think this article (which I found well written and quite objective) might give you the answers you are looking for. But just for the record, on my entire visit here, which lasted more than a week, I never felt insecure!
Today’s article is about discovering an intriguing country that surprises you with every step you make. A country of contrasts, where the blue Mediterranean waters gently blends with the amazing Ancient history of Byblos and Tripoli, where traditional Arabic music perfectly enriches the lively Bekaa Valley wines, while the serenity of Qadisha Holy Valley enlaces you till the point where the crazy night life will just sip out even your last drop of energy. In short, a charming harmonious chaos.
Lebanon has so much to offer and I think, once you get there, it just exceeds any expectations you may have, mainly, because it’s a country impossible to “read” from the start. The country is small in size but great in history and the best way of discovering it is by car. Actually, the only good way is by car cause the public transportation is rather hectic and does not cover all the main tourist places. Another low point is that the tourist signs are dying breed and good tourist maps are hard to find. So, make the best of your visit and book a local guide.
Our recommendation is, DEFINITELY, our good friend Georges Jabbour, Tour Guide and Co-owner of Travelwise Travel Agency from Beirut (don’t be shy and click here and here for more info). Not only you will have an amazing time but, you will be able to better understand all the great sites you’ll visit and to get in touch with the real Lebanon.
I was lucky enough the discover Lebanon this way so, I think this is the perfect moment for me to give special thanks to Georges for all his patience, good stories and good selection of places, special thanks to my new friend Lara Yaacoub for her amazing energy and good vibes and, of course, thousands thanks to my Romanian friend Cristi Nicu, without whom, most probably :), I wouldn’t have reached Lebanon so soon.
These being said and taking into account that Lebanon really made a good and strong impression over me, I decided to dedicate more than one article to this destination so, in the weeks to fallow I will tell you more about the tourist sites I visited. And today I’ve decided to start my Lebanese story with a place that really conquered my heart, the city of Byblos.
Part 1 – The lovely city of Byblos
Before starting to share with you everything about my short, but intense visit to Byblos, I have selected some historical data to make you more familiar to the cultural richness of this extraordinary place. Please note, as I am not a historian, that most of the info were taken from this site http://www.middleeast.com/byblos.htm.
It’s almost impossible to comprise Byblos’ history in just few lines as this city is one of the top contenders for the „oldest continuously inhabited city” in the word. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least 7,000 years. So, even for someone with little interest in history will surely find Byblos extremely interesting. How can it be otherwise when, according to Phoenician tradition, it was built by mighty Cronus himself, the leader of the Titans.
In short, 7,000 years ago, Byblos was just a small Neolithic fishing community, settled along the shore of Eastern Mediterranean Sea. By the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, Byblos had developed into the most important timber shipping centre of this region and ties with Egypt were very close. In return, Egypt sent gold, alabaster, papyrus rope and linen. Thus began a period of prosperity, wealth and intense activity. It was the Greeks, sometime after 1200 B.C., who called the city „Byblos” which meant papyrus in Greek, making reference that the area was an important commercial centre in the papyrus trade.
Around 1200 B.C. a wave of the so called „Sea Peoples” from the north spread to the eastern Mediterranean. These seafarers probably contributed with their skills to maritime society we know today as Phoenicia.
About this same time the scribes of Byblos developed an alphabetic phonetic script, which consisted in 22 letters that later became the foundation of our modern Latin alphabet. By 800 B.C., the alphabet travelled to Greece and gradually spread all over the globe, changing forever the way man communicated.
Byblos also became an important strategic part of the Persian defence system in the eastern Mediterranean. Later on, the city was conquered by Alexander the Great and it was rapidly hellenized as Greek became the language of the local elite. During this Hellenistic Period (330-64 B.C.), residents of Byblos adopted Greek customs and culture. Both the Greek language and culture persisted throughout the Roman era which was to come. The Byzantine period lasted between 395 and 637 A.D and transformed the city into an important Christian centre.
Under Arab rule, Byblos was generally peaceful but it had declined in importance over the centuries and archaeological evidence from this period is fragmentary.
In 1104 Byblos fell to the Crusaders who reused the large stones and granite columns of the Roman buildings in order to build 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 and since then many excavations were made.
Much more yet to be discovered but let’s not forget that nowadays Byblos deserves to be understood exactly like it is today: a modern town with an ancient heart.
For me, Byblos…
For me, Byblos was an amazing surprise. So welcoming, such a warm place, full of character! I was absolutely fascinated by the small harbour near the Crusaders’ Citadel. Almost a cliché image, the kind you will always find in postcards. The way the rocks and ancient ruins emerged from the waters, the soft breeze, the blurry mountains in the back, the blue sky and the soothing sound of the waves, they all framed this scenic almost theatrical surrounding with an incredible energy.
What is not to like when you know you are in one of the oldest cities on Earth, so rich in history and legends and so diverse in terms of culture? What is not to like when you know you can find a super good coffee just around the corner and that you can choose to wallow into the blue waters of Mediterranean whenever you feel like it? And all this, with the best company a man could ask, along “crazy” cheerful friends that brought everything to the next level. So, thanks again Lara, for showing me your lovely hometown with such an enthusiasm (I still remember the 3 years old bridge within the fortress).
We have started the day with one of my favourite things in the world: coffee! But not ordinary coffee, nooo … Lebanese coffee! Similar in preparation to Turkish coffee, this one is a bit different as it has, logically, Lebanese flavour. Typically served in small nicely decorated shots that are the size of espresso, enjoying a Lebanese coffee is more a ritual than actually drinking, though the effect is guaranteed!
The souks are part of Lebanese everyday life and those of tourists, as well. From souvenirs to tasty food, clothes and soap, sweets and carpets, these traditional boutiques, similar to bazaars, are a joy of colours, shouts and music. We reached too early the souks area of Byblos, most probably because the locals were still enjoying their morning coffee and, despite our European early birds behaviour, Lebanese people know that a good day never starts while rushing! So, most of the souks were not yet opened but that didn’t mind us at all as we had the chance to see the old medieval centre of Byblos in a very peaceful mood. The town was ours and only ours!
Our next stop was in the old port of Byblos. Once upon a time, the Phoenicians and the Egyptians made great trade here. Byblos was the commercial core of the entire Coast of Eastern Mediterranean. The famous cedar wood, was among the most valuable goods the early inhabitants of Lebanon had, so treasured for its unique qualities, no wonder why today, this incredible tree is the national symbol of the country.
The seaport is a lovely, peaceful place. Small boats are docked just next to the street so every tourist has easy access for a quick sea ride adventure!
Five minute walk from here, we reached the 12th century Crusaders’ Citadel that offered from the top a spectacular view over the sea and the city.
After exploring the citadel, while reading carefully every info panel we’ve met, like all serious tourists do :), we headed back to the city old centre. Here, we have discovered … Heaven!!!! Or, at least, I discovered a little Heaven for myself: a nice shop specialised in selling sea fossils named Memory of Time! I like, love, adore, treasure, worship fossils of any kind so this museum-like shop conquered my heart instantly. And thanks to my dear Lara, I left home with the best gift ever: my own personal Lebanese fish fossil, 200 million years old!
The shop is really charming, a family business reaching now the fourth generation of fossils seekers, that started 80 years ago with tons of enthusiasm and passion. The same passion you can feel it in the way this shop kindly welcomes all the visitors and the best part is that the owner is every day present there, so you can get as much info you can handle. I was lucky enough to be invited to hold one of the most important fossils of their collection. Apparently, one week before me, a Romanian diplomat visited the shop and the owner was pretty impressed by that gentleman, so, when he heard I was a Romanian too, I received this great bonus. So, here is the proof!
The evening was programmed just for sitting and relaxing on the beach.
We put our swimming suits and enjoyed the warm April waters of the sea. The beautiful sunset ended the tour of Byblos.
Night was approaching and we had to prepare for the “heavy” party hours that were about to come. People here really know how to party and the Lebanese night life is one of those things you MUST try at least once in your lifetime!
Well, my dear readers, thank you very much for fallowing! My Byblos story ends here not before telling you that the city has much more to offer and what I have presented here is just what we could cope in a couple of hours.
My next article will be about incredible Baalbek also known as Heliopolis and its famous Temple of Bacchus. But till then, here are some extra photos of charming Byblos.
Keep in touch!