Anjar is an outstanding and closely dated example of Umayyad urbanism and it also stands unique as the only historic example of an inland commercial centre. The ruins in the Beqaa, not far from the roads that link Homs and Baalbek to Tiberias and Mount Lebanon to Damascus, were discovered when archaeological explorations began in 1949.
Located on a site that was occupied over a long period (re-employed elements of Greek, Roman and early Christian buildings are frequently found in the masonry of its walls), the city of Anjar was founded at the beginning of the 8th century by Caliph Walid I (705-15). It takes its name from the Arabic term ayn al-jaar (water from the rock), referring to the streams that flow from the nearby mountains.
This surprising urban creation, which was never completed, had only a brief existence in 744. The partisans of Caliph Ibrahim, son of Walid, were defeated outside the walls of Anjar by Marwan ben Mohammed, who became the last Omayyad caliph. After this, Anjar, which was partially destroyed, was abandoned. Like Abu al Fida after him, William of Tyre saw only ruins, the results of numerous battles of the 12th century. It is the only non-coastal trading city in the country, and it flourished for only 20-30 years before the Abbasids overran the city and it fell into disuse. At its peak, it housed more than 600 shops, Roman-style baths, two palaces and a mosque.
Excavations have revealed a fortified city, enclosed by walls flanked by 40 towers where an inscription from 741 may still be seen in situ. The rectangular fortified wall (385 m by 350 m) is precisely oriented. The walls are 2 m thick and built from a core of mud and rubble with an exterior facing of sizable blocks and an interior facing of smaller layers of blocks. Against the interior of the enclosures are three stairways built on each side. They gave access to the top of the walls where guards circulated and protected the town.
Dominated by gates flanked by porticos, an important north-south axis (cardo maximus) and a lesser east-west axis (decumanus maximus) are superimposed above the main sewers and divide the city into four equal quadrants. Public and private buildings are laid out according to a strict plan: the principal palace and mosque in the south-east quadrant; the secondary palace and baths in the north-east and north-west quadrants; the densely inhabited south-west quadrant criss-crossed by a network of streets built on an orthogonal plan.
The urban spatial organization, which is remarkably devised, is more reminiscent of that of a royal residence (of which the city-palace of Diocletian at Split remains the best example) than that of the Roman military camps and colonial cities. The ruins are dominated by the spectacular vestiges of a monumental tetrapyle, at the crossing of the two principal axes, as well as by the walls and colonnades of the Omayyad palace, three levels of which have been preserved. These structures incorporate sculptures from the Roman period, but are notable as well for the exceptional plasticity of the elements of the contemporary decor within the construction.
More evidence of the Umayyad dependence on the architectural traditions of other cultures appears in the Umayyad baths, which contain the three classical sections of the Roman bath: the vestiary where patrons changed clothing before their bath and rested afterwards, and three rooms for cold, warm and hot water. The size of the vestiary indicates the bath was more than a source of physical well-being but also a centre of social interaction.
A city with 600 shops and an overwhelming concern for security must have required a fair number of people. Keeping this in mind, archaeologists looked for remains of an extensive residential area and found it just beyond the tetrastyle to the south-west.
Baalbek, with its colossal structures, is a unique artistic creation and an eminent example of a sanctuary of the imperial Roman period. It is located on two historic trade routes, between the Mediterranean coast and the Syrian interior and between northern Syria and northern Palestine. Today the city, 85 km from Beirut, is an important administrative and economic centre in the northern Beqaa valley.
The origin of the name Baalbek is not precisely known. The Phoenician term Baalmeans 'lord' or 'god' and was the title given to the Semitic sky-deity. The word Baalbek may therefore mean 'God of the Beqaa valley' (the local area) or 'God of the Town', depending on different interpretations of the word.
Lying on fertile plains, Baalbek was, during the Phoenician period, no more than an agricultural village where a triad of fertility gods were worshipped; given the name Heliopolis during the Hellenistic period, the modest city saw its apogee after the arrival of the Romans in Phoenicia in 64 BC, when it became one of the most celebrated sanctuaries of the ancient world, progressively overlaid with colossal constructions which were built during more than two centuries. The monumental ensemble of Heliopolis is one of the most impressive testimonies - and doubtless the most celebrated - to imperial Roman architecture.
Historians attribute to Augustus the design of the imperial sanctuary where a significant religious transfer came about to the benefit of Rome. Whatever the case, the Romanized triad of Heliopolis (Jupiter, Venus and Mercury) came to replace the Phoenician triad (Baal-Shamash, Anta and Alyn). The first building work, that of the Temple of Jupiter, began during the reign of Emperor Augustus in the late 1st century BC and completed soon after AD 60 under Nero. The immense sanctuary of Jupiter Heliopolitanus was lined by 104 massive granite columns imported from Aswan and held a temple surrounded by 50 additional columns. From that time, work did not abate until the construction of the Great Altar (c. 100) and the so-called Temple of Bacchus (c. 120-25), named for the many sculptured reliefs interpreted by archaeologists as scenes from the childhood of this god.
The Grand Court, construction of which began during the reign of Trajan (98-117), contained various religious buildings and altars, and was surrounded by a splendid colonnade of 128 rose granite columns. These columns are known to have been quarried in Aswan (Egypt). Today, only six columns remain standing, the rest having been destroyed by earthquakes or taken to other sites. The Temple of Venus was added at the beginning of the 3rd century. It is assumed to be a Venus temple because of its ornamentation of seashells, doves and other artistic motifs associated with the cult of this goddess. During Byzantine Christian times the temple was used as a church and dedicated to the Christian martyr St Barbara.
At Baalbek-Heliopolis, the phenomenon of religious syncretism, which amalgamated the old Phoenician beliefs with the myths of the Graeco-Roman pantheon, was prolonged by an amazing stylistic metamorphosis. The Syro-Phoenician formulae of the Seleucid period were fused with the classic decorative grammar of the Ara Pacis Augustae. There resulted an architecture of a considerable expressive force which was combined, without redundancy, in the ornamental motives of the colonnades, niches and exedras and was also freely expressed in the ceilings with sculpted coffered panels and the framework of the doorways.
In 634, Muslim armies entered Syria and besieged Baalbek. A large mosque was built within the walls of the temple compound, which was converted into a citadel. Over the next few centuries, the city and region of Baalbek were controlled by various Islamic dynasties. Its monuments suffered from theft, war and earthquakes, as well as from numerous medieval additions. This Phoenician city, where a triad of deities was worshipped, retained its religious function during Roman times, when the sanctuary of the Heliopolitan Jupiter attracted thousands of pilgrims.
Byblos bears exceptional testimony to the beginnings of Phoenician civilization. From the Bronze Age, it provides one of the primary examples of urban organization in the Mediterranean world. The Phoenicians, who considered Gublu (the Gebal of the Bible) to be one of their oldest cities, were in no way wrong: the site of Byblos has been continuously inhabited since the Neolithic period. The oldest human settlement, some 7,000 years old, appears to have been a fishing village whose numerous monocellular huts have been rediscovered.
Towards 3200 BC, a new spatial organization took form: the mound was covered with houses with stone walls, while the inhumation urns, until that time placed within the living area, were shifted to the periphery of the agglomeration where various types of funerary rituals may be observed in the large necropolis. Towards 2800, Gebal appeared as a highly structured city: enclosed by a massive fortified wall (whose construction, legend attributes to the god El), it comprised a main street and a network of smaller streets.
The prosperity of the harbour - from which cedar wood, an indispensable material for building construction and for naval yards, as well as cedar oil, used for the mummification of bodies, were exported to Egypt - entailed large constructions, such as that of the temple of Baalat-Gebal, the goddess of the city, which several pharaohs enriched with their offerings. This city, of which numerous traces still exist, was burned around 2150 by the invading Amorites: a thick layer of ash (in some places 50 cm) seals off the original levels.
Approximately two centuries later, the city was rebuilt with new temples (the Temple of the Obelisks, dedicated c. 1900-1600 BC to the god Reshef, is the best known of this period) and commercial relations with Egypt were re-established in all their intensity. Towards the middle of the Bronze Age, the treasure of the nine Royal Tombs of Byblos attests to the degree of perfection of a civilization which competed with that of King Ahiram (National Museum, Beirut), an inscription in Phoenician characters is addressed to eventual grave robbers; and one may see in this curse the proof that writing, widely disseminated, was no longer the monopoly of the scribes.
A commercial city, Byblos was able to accommodate successive dominations, whether Assyrian, Babylonian, Achaemenid or Greek. During the Roman period, its commercial role declined, but the city assumed an eminent religious function: hordes of pilgrims, as noted in the 2nd century AD by Lucian of Samosate, crowded its temples, which were constantly reconstructed and embellished.
Tyre ruled the seas and founded prosperous colonies such as Cadiz and Carthage, but its historical role declined at the end of the Crusades. There are important archaeological remains, mainly from Roman times.
From the 5th century BC, when Herodotus of Halicarnassus visited it, Tyre was considered one of the oldest metropolises in the world. To demonstrate the renown of this city, it is sufficient to recall the events that associated it directly with the important stages in human history: the discovery of the alphabet (the Greeks who copied and adapted it honoured Cadmos); that of purple pigment (which legend attributes to Melkart, the Phoenician Heracles); as well as the construction in Jerusalem of the Temple of Solomon, thanks to the competition held by the King of Tyre, Hiram; and the exploration of the seas by the hardy navigators who sailed as far as the Western Mediterranean and founded trading centres, such as Utica, Cadiz and especially Carthage, which ultimately assured a quasi-monopoly of the important maritime commerce.
Sited at the entrance to the sea, according to the prophet Ezekiel, Tyre, which was constructed on an impregnable island, succumbed in 332 to the attack of Alexander of Macedonia who had blockaded the straits by a dyke before his final assault. The original Greek city was followed in 64 BC by a Roman city constructed on this historically charged site. Tyre was to win back on several occasions some of its former splendour. In the early period of Christianity, it was the seat of a province that incorporated 14 bishoprics. Having fallen under Arabic domination in 636, it was retaken by the Crusaders in 1124 with the help of a Venetian fleet. From 1124 to 1294, the date of its evacuation, the city became a stronghold of the Christians who built 18 churches, not including the chapel of the castle, and reconstructed the cathedral reusing elements of the original basilica. Following the Crusades, the historic role of the city declined. Almost totally destroyed by the Mamelukes at the end of the 13th century, it was only modestly reconstructed in the 18th century. Despite a recent increase of population, Tyre has today only 60,000 inhabitants.
In the present souk, archaeological remains essentially include the Roman city and the medieval constructions of the Crusades. These are divided into two distinct zones:
- On the promontory, the site of the archipelago which, as legend has it, was created by Hiram who grouped several smaller islands into one single island, is the city, which became a colony under Septimius Severus. The imposing ruins of the palaestra, the thermae, and the arena still exist, as do the remains of the cathedral built in 1127 by the Venetians, along with some of the walls of the castle constructed during the Crusades.
- On the mainland, the necropolis of El Bass is to be found on either side of a wide monumental way dominated by a triumphal arch of the 2nd century. Other important monumental vestiges of this archaeological area are the aqueduct and, especially, the 2nd-century hippodrome, one of the largest of the Roman world.
Ouadi Qadisha (Holy Valley) and the Forest of the Cedars of God (Horsh Arz-El Rab)
Qadisha (Holy) Valley has been the site of monastic communities continuously since the earliest years of Christianity. The trees in the Cedar Forest are survivors of a sacred forest and of one of the most highly prized building materials of the ancient world.
Many of the caves in the Qadisha occupied by the Christian anchorites had been used earlier as shelters and for burials, as far back as the Palaeolithic period. Since the early centuries of Christianity, the Holy Valley served as a refuge for those in search of solitude. Syrian Maronites fled there from religious persecution from the late 7th century onwards, and this movement intensified in the 10th century following the destruction of the Monastery of St Marun. The Maronite monks established their new centre at Qannubin, in the heart of the Qadisha, and monasteries that combined eremitism with community life quickly spread over the surrounding hills.
At the end of the Crusades the Qadisha caves witnessed dramatic actions against their supporters, the Maronites. The Mameluke sultans Baibars and Qalaoun led campaigns in 1268 and 1283 respectively against these fortress-caves and the surrounding villages. Despite these attacks, the Deir Qannubin monastery was to become the seat of the Maronite Patriarch in the 15th century and to remain so for 500 years. In the 17th century the Maronite monks' reputation for piety was such that many European poets, historians, geographers, politicians and clergy visited and even settled in the Qadisha.
The Holy Valley was, however, not merely the centre of the Maronites. Its rocky cliffs gave shelter to other Christian communities over the centuries - Jacobites (Syrian Orthodox), Melchites (Greek Orthodox), Nestorians, Armenians, even Ethiopians. The cedar (Cedrus lebani) is described in ancient works on botany as the oldest tree in the world. It was admired by the Israelites, who brought it to their land to build the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Historical sources report that the famous cedar forests were beginning to disappear at the time of Justinian in the 6th century AD.
The long, deep Qadisha Valley is located at the foot of Mount al-Makmal in northern Lebanon. Through it the Holy River, Nahr Qadisha, runs for 35 km, from its source in a cave a little way below the sacred cedars. The slopes of the valley form natural ramparts, and their steep cliffs contain many caves, often at more than 1,000 m and all difficult of access. Around them are the terraces made by the hermits for growing grain, grapes and olives. The hermitages, consisting of small cells no more than the height of a man and sometimes with walls closing them off, take advantage of irregularities in the rock, which explains their uneven distribution. Some have wall paintings still surviving.
There are four main monastic complexes: the Qannubin Monastery is on the north-east side of the Qadisha. It is the oldest of the Maronite monasteries; the Monastery of St Anthony of Quzhayya is on the opposite flank of the Qadisha. Tradition has its foundation in the 4th century by St Hilarion, in honour of the Egyptian anchorite, St Anthony the Great, although the earliest documentary records date back only to around 1000; the Monastery of Our Lady of Hauqqa (Saydet Hauqqa) is situated at an altitude of 1,150 m between Qannubin and Quzhayya, at the base of an enormous cave; the Monastery of Mar Lichaa (Mar Lisa or St Elisha), mentioned first in the 14th century, is shared by two communities, a Maronite solitary order and the Barefoot Carmelite order. It consists of three or four small cells, a refectory and some offices; the communal church includes four chapels cut into the rock face.