The Phoenicians’ Route – Lebanon

Lebanon, the ancient Phoenicia, with a surface area little bigger than the Abruzzo’s  one , is one of the smallest countries in the world, but its territory has ancient and glorious roots, result of numerous civilizations that have contributed to shape  the complex identity of this region. The precious archaeological sites convey the suggestion of a still palpitating past; the medieval suq appears suspended in an ancient and indefinite time, cities pulsate for life at any time of day or night, Islamic mosques and Byzantine churches continue to convey an eternal sense of the sacred that always attracts devotees and pilgrims. The landscape offers mountain reliefs, covered by dense forests of cedar, pine and eucalyptus trees, sinuous coastline lapped by the Mediterranean, lush plains crossed by the most famous rivers in history.

 

The trip on the Phoenicians’ Route in Lebanon starts from Beirut, the capital, curious mixture between East and West, able to offer multiple faces to travelers. The colonial-style palaces, restored with great mastery, and the city’s mosques show the triumph of rebirth on destruction. Riddled buildings and traces of the Green Line talk about  a place of sad memories from the gloomy past. The city is characterized by pedestrian streets in the central districts, here are the Roman baths, integrated into an urban landscape dominated by the great seraglio, built by the Ottomans in 1849. From the corniche, a fashionable promenade, you can admire a picturesque outcropping in the surf called “Pigeons’ Rocks”, one of the most famous symbols of Beirut. From the cultural point of view, the National Archaeological Museum stands out, that among its collections preserves the well-known sarcophagus of king Ahiram, which bears the oldest known inscription in Phoenician alphabet.

About 20 Km north of Beirut there are  the Jeita Grottos, a place that offers a spectacle of rare beauty created  by plastic and bizarre forms, shaped by centuries of erosion, to create a fairy tale scenery where stalagmites and stalactites (among which one of  eight meters length ) are reflected in the clear waters of the underground basin. The lower gallery can be visited thanks to an electric boat that moves for about 500 meters, while the equipped walkway of the upper one continues for about 750 meters. A truly magical experience!

Byblos is considered the oldest inhabited city in the world and, according to the Phoenician writer Sanchuniathon, the first city of the Phoenicians. The name Byblos is of Greek origin, in Arabic it is called Jubayl derived from Canaanite Gubal used during the Bronze Age, which in turn is the combination of GB (source or origin) and EL, the name of the supreme divinity of the ancient pantheon of the city. In Phoenician Gbl. Today it is a typical Middle Eastern city (enchanting the suq and the medieval port) visited mainly for its archaeological area, which is accessed through the castle – built in the twelfth century with stone blocks of Roman times – and that preserves the remains of the ancient amorite city, the famous “Temple of Obelisks” of Phoenician era and a Roman amphitheater.

Tripoli, founded by the Phoenicians around 800 BC is today the second largest city and main port in Lebanon. It includes the port area (al-Mina) and the city itself dominated by the imposing  citadel of the twelfth-century.  Offshore the city there are the Palm Islands, where the green turtles take shelter, since 1992 UNESCO Protected Nature Reserve.

Sidon, founded in the fourth millennium BC, in its long history has seen Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders and Mamluks following  one another.  From the Ottoman era remain the Great Mosque and the Caravanserai, built in the seventeenth century to house the merchant caravans in transit. Interesting are also the picturesque suq, home to numerous craft shops.

The city of Tyre, built around 2700 BC, was originally made up of two settlements – one on the mainland and the other on an island – that in the fourth century were joined by a causeway. In the insular area it is possible to  admire the remains of the Roman city, with mosaic paved roads and delimited by porticos. Not far away you can admire the ruins of the cathedral built by the crusaders and the vast necropolis, with numerous sarcophagi of the early Christian era. A paved road passes under the imposing arch of triumph leading to the hippodrome, capable of holding 20,000 spectators. For its inestimable value, since 1979, Tyre is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Baalbek, the “City of the Sun” of antiquity is without any  doubt the most extraordinary archaeological site in  Lebanon, known all over the world for its monumental complex of Roman temples. Founded by the Phoenicians, it was later conquered by the Macedonians who called it Heliopolis (always the City of the Sun) for assimilation between the god Sun and the Phoenician divinity Baal. Then it became a Roman colony under Augusto, preserving the new name. Today you can see three main buildings: the temple of Jupiter, the temple of Bacchus  and the so-called circular temple of Venus. A fourth monument, the Temple of Mercury is located on the hill of Sheikh Abdallah. In July and August the temples become the scenery of the Baalbeck Festival, an international music, theater and dance show.

Famous as much for his romantic legend as for its beautiful landscapes, the Adonis Valley, crossed by the Nahr Ibrahim (river of Adonis), forms a deep and wild groove in the coastal chain between Jounieh and Byblos. The area, managed by Jabal Moussa – UNESCO Biosphere Nature Reserve, is full of ancient ruins and offers spectacular panoramic views.

The oldest and most famous Lebanese winery (Ksara) stands on the site of a medieval fortress (Ksar in Arabic) of which there are no longer any traces. The vineyards, planted at the beginning of the eighteenth century are still lush and the clay-calcareous soil, combined with a dry climate are particularly favorable conditions for the cultivation of vines. In recent years, both red and white wines produced by this company, have won numerous international awards. One of the most original aspects are  the underground cellars (2 km of galleries!), very spacious, where the wine is kept  for mellowing  and aging . The guided tour of 45 minutes allows you to see the cellars, the various stages of wine production and ends with the tasting of the products.