|The excavations at Byblos (BikeAbout)|
Byblos, believed to have been the first city of the Phoenicians, achieved its greatest renown beginning in the third millennium BC when it was a busy port used for trade. Ships from throughout the Mediterranean would come to Byblos in search of local materials, as well as those found in other further-distant lands. Egypt would send gold, papyrus, linen and alabaster, and exchange it all for oil and wood. The trunk and branches from cypress, oak, fir, and especially the famous, huge, and sometimes ancient Lebanese cedar trees that covered the Lebanese coast and nearby highlands, were extremely important materials in the barren and arid parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Byblos continued to be important until the first millennium BC. Following that, it was invaded, as was the whole region, successively by the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, and the Crusaders. Afterwards, many of its ruins were covered over and lost from memory.
Byblos is famous for three basic things: first, along with Acre (Israel) and Damascus (Syria), Byblos claims to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; second, Byblos is believed by many to be the place where an alphabetic phonetic script was developed which grew into the modern alphabets we know today; and third, Byblos got its name from the ancient Greek word for papyrus bublos (which today means"book") because papyrus was delivered to the Greeks from Egypt via the port of Byblos (which also gave its name to the Bible).
The site today, right on the coast in the middle of Jbeil, Lebanon, is 22 miles north of Beirut. It is quite impressive, despite the rough and hodge-podge quality of the remains (one cannot criticize history for the lack of order). Standing proudly above it all is a heavy Crusader castle. Using the rock salvaged from older structures (even columns were used), the Crusaders built thick outer walls around an equally dense keep. From the roof of one of the outer walls, there is an excellent view over the site, the nearby beaches, and down the coast toward Beirut.
Surrounding the dominant Crusader castle are a wide variety of ruins: the remains of huts from the fifth millennium BC, a few third-millennium-BC temples, tombs and an obelisk temple from the second millennium BC, shrines and a rebuilt theater from Roman times, and, of course, some impressive Medieval walls.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication