Byblos was first excavated in the early 1920s and since then the stories of a hundred different conquering armies has been discovered. The most recent data suggests that the area was first populated by humans around 10000 years ago. For a bit a context, that’s before the invention of pottery. The first evidence of Byblos as permanent town was from the 5000 years ago.
You would be remiss if you didn’t head down to the town's main archaeological site to explore the ancient ruins of the Phoenicians, including the impressive Great Temple, constructed in 2700 BC and the Temple of Obelisks, built around 1600 BC. Thrown into the mix at this site are a few Egyptian temples and some structures from the Romans. Access to the site is through the old souks.
Checking out the Roman amphitheater is a must. At one time it’s thought to have stood 20 meters high, with 30 steps. Being almost perfectly preserved, you can sit down and really get a great impression of what it would have been like to watch the latest offerings from the playwrights.
There is a truly immense collection of ruins and artefacts to examine, which can be slightly overwhelming if your knowledge of ancient history has some gaps. The whole site is set to the backdrop of the perfect blue of the Mediterranean, and on a sunny day, simply walking around and admiring the spectacle of the place and how well the buildings have survived considering how old they are is a real delight.
Next to the ancient Phoenician ruins (in the same complex), you’ll find the Crusader castle, which was built in the 12th century, sadly, with parts from the remains of Roman structures. Nevertheless, the castle is an impressive structure, which is still largely intact and a joy to explore. Navigate through the many rooms and up the narrow winding staircases to the top and you’ll find a fantastic vista. It the highest point in the area, which offers stunning views across the Mediterranean and over the new parts of Byblos, with luscious mountains in the background. If you look down from the castle you’ll see the ancient ruins. This is well worth it as you can get a clear understanding of the layout of the area. On the ground it can feel a bit like piles of stones, but from up there you can see how they make walls and rooms and buildings; the paths are no longer just paths, but the streets used by these ancient settlers. There’s also a small museum in the castle to the history of the Phoenician alphabet that lets you track the development to today's Latin letters.
Byblos archeological site (09 540 001) adult/child LL.8,000/20,000
Outside the archaeological stands the Sultan Abdul Majid mosque, built by the Mamluks in the 17th century. Outside the ancient ruins are the old souks. This charming area, which has excellent examples of period architecture, with cobbled streets, quiet and relaxed surroundings making it perfect for a sumptuous meal or a few drinks.
For those of you who find ancient Phoenicians a bit too recent, then you can check out the Byblos Fossil Museums, where they have an admirable collection of fossilised marine life, most of which has been discovered in the surrounding areas.
Beirut Fossil Museum (09 540555) www.memoryoftime.com/science-and-fossils
By: James Haines-Young