Lebanon possesses a wealth of archaeological sites and historic cities and monuments that reflect its central role in the evolution of our culture and society. It has many Prehistoric sites, from the Neolithic (New Stone Age) to the Chalcolithic (Copper Age). A number of Lebanese cities have at least five levels of Prehistoric finds beneath them. Beirut, Tyre, Sidon and Byblos are four of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world. They were once Phoenician city states that prospered from trade, especially from the export of Tyrian Dye, manufactured from the Murex trunculus shell. This dye was highly valued by antique priests and rulers, from the Egyptians to the Romans. The Phoenicians’ other valued export was cedar wood, used throughout the Mediterranean for religious and palatial structures. Lebanon still has remnants of its antique cedar forests. The country also has fascinating Phoenician religious sites, like the Obelisk Temple, Byblos, where gilded bronze figurines were discovered. They are now in Beirut’s magnificent National Archaeological Museum. The Romans recognised many Semitic gods like Baal and built fine temples to them. The magnificent, monumental temple complex of Baalbak (‘City of Baal’), where this god was worshipped, is the equal of Syria’s Palmyra and Jorden’s Petra. Its architecture shows how Semitic, Greek and Latin traditions fused in this region. After the Arab seizure of Lebanon, the first Muslim dynasty, the Umayyads, built a powerful palace complex at Anjar. Anjar’s Umayyad architecture owed much to Roman and Byzantine models. The Seljuk Turk invasion of the Holy Land triggered the Crusades, in which much of Lebanon became the Christian County of Tripoli (1109 – 1289). Lebanon has a fine patrimony of Crusader castles, often modified or reconstructed by the Egyptian Mamluks and later Ottomans. Tripoli has the greatest number of fine Mamluk monuments outside Cairo.
Lebanon’s rich complexity includes great religious diversity. Cosmopolitan Beirut has an incredible range of religious groups, including Shi’a, Sunni, ‘Alawi, Druze, Maronite Catholics, and at least ten other Christian confessions. Its culinary delights also reflect this cultural diversity.
Join historian Dr Christopher Gribbin and archaeologist David Perlman to discover the rich history of the Eastern Mediterranean through the archaeology, art and architecture of Cyprus. Read more