Is ancient Byblos the world’s oldest continually inhabited city? Others make the same claim: Damascus and Aleppo in neighbouring Syria, Jericho in Palestine, also in the general vicinity. Byblos was founded 7 000 years ago. Some say 9 000, some say 10 800. Either way, people have lived and loved here for a long time.
I’m in Jbeil! That’s the present-day Arabic name of this city. It has had other names, as well: Gebal, Gibelet, Gubal… However, it’s its historic name that has left its mark on the world.
Which words come to mind? Biblion, meaning book. How about bibliotheca? The Latin word for library (and Norwegian, French, German, Bulgarian, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Russian, Haitian Creole, Esperanto, Latvian, Yiddish… I could go on…).
No surprise then, that Byblos gave us the precursor to our alphabet. Phoenician was the first alphabet where each consonant was represented by a symbol. 22 letters. Normally, vowels are left out in Phoenician spelling, much like Arabic. But we’ll cheat a bit.
That spells my name – as it is pronounced. From right to left: SOFI. Well, close enough. Try yours!
The Crusader Castle in Byblos
The castle in Byblos is from Crusader times, the 12th century – practically a teenager compared to the surrounding sights: a Phoenician necropolis, Egyptian temples, a Roman amphitheatre.
There’s also a classical Lebanese house in the grounds, to illustrate the present ground level in the terrain, in relation to archaeological excavations. That view!
The Crusader Castle is the most important sight in town – and located right next to …
… Byblos’ historic quarter and old souk
The old market in Byblos is full of cosy, creative restaurants (both menu and decor), cobbled streets, interesting architecture, and colours. Always colours.
That is my lingering impression of Lebanon. Technicolours. It’s a most photogenic country.
Portal to the souk:
Nighttime in Byblos
Being frightfully colonial here, but we couldn’t resist sundowners on the hotel terrace, overlooking the sun setting on the Mediterranean…
…before walking along to the small harbour (reminiscent of a small Greek island). It is thought this little harbour was used for fishing; it isn’t deep enough for the ships the Phoenicians used for trade. The location of the ancient port is still a mystery to archaeologists.
By the harbour is a number of lovely fish restaurants with a view. I had dinner at Pépé’s Fishing Club, where you choose a fish and pay according to weight. Fell off the bone, practically. Delish! I dined with two fellow travellers, and we can all recommend it.
So can a whole host of other celebs who have stopped off here through the years: Vaclav Havel, Geraldine Chaplin, a Kennedy or two, poor Aldo Moro… – all proudly presented in photos with Pépé Abed, the late founder. All in all, you feel transported to say Saint-Tropez in the 60s. There’s also a little museum here containing various items found by Pépé while diving: statues, Roman jugs, etc.
Byblos is just 40 km north of the Lebanese capital, and Beirutis often come up to Byblos especially for a meal at Pépé’s.