Byblos, Lebanon, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and offers a glimpse into successive civilizations dating back over 8,000 years to the Neolithic era. Here you can find remnants of Egyptian artifacts, Greek temples, Roman roads, Persian forts, Byzantine mosaics, medieval churches, Ottoman houses and more. After his capture of Jerusalem in 1187, Sultan Saladin drove the Crusaders from Byblos in 1189. Parts of the Crusaders’ castle fortress remain, surrounded by a field of rubble and wildflowers.
Also known as Jbeil, Byblos is regularly listed among the best tourist cities, and I agree with the pronouncement.
Traveling within Lebanon isn’t easy if you don’t know what to expect.
Most taxis do not have meters, and the driver will likely overcharge if you don’t negotiate the cost at the outset of your transport. Since most locals do not speak fluent English, my friend Josh negotiates our fare from Beirut to Byblos in Arabic. This is not a typical cab, however; it’s a service-taxi van that looks like it may have seen action during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). The vehicle slows to a roll from time to time to welcome additional passengers or let us hop out onto the shoulder of this interstate-like road. Be ready to jump!
Our most basic need to communication is satisfied, thanks in part to the heritage of Byblos.
Like art history, etymology is a fascinating lens through which to study the past. Because Egyptian papyrus scrolls were exported to Greece by way of Byblos, Byblos was the Egyptian word for papyrus, then Greek for scroll or book. It’s believed that this is the origin of the word Bible. Most modern alphabets are derived from the Phoenician alphabet, which developed in Byblos and was spread to the world by merchants crossing the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean provides delectable cuisine.
Once upon a time, the harbor established Byblos as a major trading center. Waterfront activities demonstrate that the Mediterranean is still a major source of vitality in the region: fishermen cast lines from the rocky shoreline in hopes of catching dinner, boaters empty their nets on the pier and families play in the surf.
We enjoy a warm sunset from the terrace of Pépé’s Fishing Club. Here, Lebanese adventurer Pépé Abed pioneered Lebanon’s tourism industry and played host to Frank Sinatra, Ginger Rogers, Marlon Brando, prime ministers, heads of state and other well-to-do figures of the 60s and 70s. We share traditional mezze – an assortment of hot and cold small plates – including baba ghanoush, kofta kebabs, grilled seafood skewers, flatbread and my favorite dessert, Baklava. Like Spanish tapas, mezze is a great way to try a number of items in one sitting, and sharing and discussing a meal is a nice way to bond with fellow travelers.
Byblos is a diamond in the rough of Lebanon’s war-torn landscape. I look forward to discovering others.