I spent the month of May traveling first for two weeks to Beirut, Lebanon and then for two weeks visiting Paris. It was my first visit to both cities. My time in Lebanon was fascinating, and I very much look forward to sharing it with you.
There are many archaeological excavations in or near Beirut. I will share more about modern day Beirut and Lebanon in later posts. Today's post is about the ancient cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Maghdouche. All of which lie south of Beirut. I must admit that when the brochures offering these day trips from Beirut would mention like "eighty kilometers south of Beirut", I had no idea I would be in densely Muslim southern Lebanon. The north is still predominantly Christian.
Lebanon is a very little country just to the north of another very little country called Israel. To the east of both of these small countries is the much larger country of Syria. Damascus, the oldest continuously living city in the world, and the capital of Syria, is relatively close to the Lebanese border. Needless to say, next to North Korea this part of the world is the biggest hot spot currently on the map. Northern Lebanon is dominated by Christians, which is probably the largest group of Christians concentrated in one area anywhere in the Middle East today. Southern Lebanon is dominated by Muslims, particularly Hezbollah, and Hezbollah and Israel have tangled in major conflicts more than once, and basically threaten each other to do so again in the future.
I had no idea how quickly one could pass from northern to southern Lebanon in this little country. Whatever the deal, the government appears to have worked out an agreement that keeps these touristic, historical, archaeological areas open; possibly since they do bring money into the Lebanese coffers, and the sites are on the western side of southern Lebanon as opposed to the eastern side, where part of Lebanon's and Israel's border meet.
Nonetheless, our first city to visit was Tyre, which is not that far from the Israeli border. In fact, we were able to see Israel from Tyre, although we were still some miles from the border.
Tyre is one of the oldest cities in the world. It began as a city-state in the ancient Phoenician civilization, which according to the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, was founded about 2,500 B.C. Phoenicia stretch along the Mediterranean coast across modern day Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.
Phoenicia was known for its unique purple dye that would be exclusively used by kings and royalty throughout the ancient Western World. Tyre became one of the most important maritime centers on the Mediterranean. It trade made it one of the wealthiest cities in the world for its time.
King Hiram of Tyre sent materials and an architect for the building of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon. This first Jewish temple was built with timber from the cedars of Lebanon. The cedars to this day still present a scenic beauty in northern Lebanon.
Tyre would later be conquered by Alexander the Great, who would take its stones to build a Greek city, later Tyre would be conquered by the Romans, who built a Roman city on the site. The excavations below are from the Roman period.
Below is the Roman Road built in the 2nd century A.D. We are touring through a necropolis or Roman cemetery.
Below are Roman sarcophagi. Much like the vaults in which the caskets are lowered into today. There are hundreds of sarcophagi that have been excavated on this site alone.
Below are vaults very much like modern day mausoleums.
Above is the Arch of Hadrian, named after the Roman Emperor. The Roman Road on the far side of the arch was made in Roman times. The road on this side of the arch was built in Byzantine times, after the Roman Empire divided into two in 285 A.D. The eastern half of the empire was called the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire.
Below is a close-up of the arch's construction.
Of course, the Romans built an entire city. What remains of the building ruins are seen on site.
Below is a rear view of the ruins of a Roman Hippodrome. Our guide, Madeline, said it was the largest hippodrome in the Roman Empire seating 40,000 people. Some sources agree with our guide. While other sources claim the hippodrome's occupancy was 20,000.
The frontal view of the Roman Hippodrome shows its stadium-like appearance. Charioteers would circle the track seven times to determine a winner. There were also two large, luxurious buildings with Roman baths for the elite supporters of the two teams.
The ancient Greeks made their pillars from one stone. The Romans would use three stones with rods running through them to make a pillar. You can see the segmentation in the photos above and below.
Sidon is another ancient city going back to Phoenician times. It birthed the city of Tyre. By King David's day in Israel, Sidon was already in decline to be replaced as a maritime power by Tyre. King Solomon of Israel, David's son, made a matrimonial pact with Sidon, which include women from Sidon that brought idol worship into Israel. The infamous Jezebel, queen of Ahab, a king of Israel, was also a woman of Sidon. Both Tyre and Sidon were also mentioned in Old Testament prophesies of the doom and destruction that would come to them.
Centuries later, the crusaders, especially the first crusades, were successful in recapturing Jerusalem from the Muslims, and the crusaders built a chain of fortresses or castles along the Mediterranean. The Sea Castle (below) in Sidon is one such fort, and was built in the 12th century.
The crusaders were not large in number as they were scattered throughout the Mediterranean. Just enough to secure the areas for trade, and put down any rebellion. Most were driven out these areas, about 100 years later by the Muslims, who reasserted themselves.
Unlike the Muslims, who conquered and forced the people they conquered to become Muslims, or if people of the book--the Bible--the Jews and Christians, to this day, live in a subordinate position to the Muslims. The crusaders by virtually running a holding operation made no significant or lasting impact on the people, who went about their daily lives as always while under the subjection of the crusaders.
The Mediterranean is a beautiful blue, as seen from the Sea Castle looking out as the city-scape of Sidon, which is 80% Sunni Muslim and about 10% Shia Muslim.
Below is a view of the restaurant where we would be eating. Everywhere I ate in Beirut and its environs, the food was very good.
While all of us ate outside to enjoy the beautiful sunny weather, the interior of this elegant and exquisite restaurant can be seen below.
Customers at the restaurant could choose their fresh sea-fare of the day for preparation by the chef.
Below was another elegant restaurant across the street from where our tour group had dined.
Maghdouche was our last destination for the day, with only a few
miles between it and Sidon. Maghdouche, which numbers about 8,000 inhabitants is a much smaller community than the city populations of Tyre (60,000) or Sidon (80,000). The vast majority of people are Melkite Catholic and a few are Maronite Catholics.
In 1986, Conflict broke out between the Shia Muslims and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The conflict spilled over to Christian Maghdouche. Much of the town was destroyed.The town was completely destroyed in 1990. Christians began to resettle and rebuild Maghdouche beginning in 1994. The town and other nearby Christian communities still find themselves in a precarious position. Some of the legal conflicts involve claims to land rights, and building and zoning restrictions that the Christian believe are being used to limit them in this primarily Muslim region.
Christian tradition holds that when Jesus visited Sidon of which Maghdouche was then a part, He was accompanied by His mother. However, Mary was not allowed to enter the city. Jewish women were not allowed, I assume by the Jewish patriarchy, to enter into a pagan city. Mary, therefore, waited in a cave, until Jesus returned for her.
Various shrines down through the centuries were built here to commemorate Mary. The Emperor Constantine built a shrine in in honor of Mary, which was destroyed later in an earthquake.
The photos of the chapel below are inside a cave where Mary was to have stayed while waiting for Jesus.
The Tower of Our Lady of Matara below is the most significant shrine in Maghdouche, and it is built over the caves shown above.
A painting of Mary as the focal character, with Jesus seen in the upper left of the painting.
This icon of Mary (below) with its rich gold patina had been lost due to an earthquake many centuries ago, and was found centuries later. It is of Byzantine style and origin.
As our tour group made its way back to Beirut, we first stopped again at Sidon to walk through the Souks.
The Souks are the original part of town of the Mamluk Era that is made up what seems like an endless maze of cavernous alleyways, which are constructed of mammoth stones.
Today the Souks are a huge bazaar. Every kind of shop, eatery, and craft imaginable. I really enjoyed the Souks. It was a fun time, and the highlight for me of what was a very good day.
At one time, there were these wealthy homes above the Souks called palaces. These homes were not owned necessarily by royalty, just people with money. Some have been turned into museums.
Can you guess what the banner below is? It is actually a family tree or genealogy.
Below, the soap after it is cut into precise blocks.
A structure of the stack soap blocks.
A calibrator, which further shaves the bars of soap to precise smoothness. The shavings are gathered up and reused.
When I saw the scene below, I had to laugh. It so reminded me of when I was in India, with all of the overhanging cables and wires. However, in India the amount of cables strung across the street would have been a much greater, very intertwined, overlapping, discombobulated mess. I am convinced that Indian electricians must be the world's most knowledgeable. How in the world they can figure out among such a maze of cables what goes to where and for what is for me an enigma wrapped in a conundrum.
The Souks also have many alleyways named after the crafts and their craftsmen found in a particular alley.
A courtyard done in an Islamic style of architecture, with its Moorish touches. Reminiscent of what I had seen in a number of buildings in Lima, Peru.