Byblos, in Arabic Jubayl (Arabic: جبيل Lebanese Arabic pronunciation: [ʒbejl]; Phoenician: 𐤂𐤁𐤋 Gebal), is a Mediterranean city in the Mount Lebanon Governorate, Lebanon. It is believed to have been occupied first between 8800 and 7000 BC, and according to fragments attributed to the semi-legendary pre-Homeric Phoenician priest Sanchuniathon, it was built by Cronus as the first city in Phoenicia. It is one of the cities suggested as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and the site has been continuously inhabited after 5000 BC. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gubal was a Canaanite city throughout the Bronze Age, at which time it additionally appears as Gubla in the Amarna letters. During the Iron Age the city is called Gebal in Phoenician (𐤂𐤁𐤋) and appears in the Hebrew Bible under the name Geval (Hebrew: גבל). It was much later referred to as Gibelet, throughout the Crusades. The city's Canaanite/Phoenician name (GBL, i.e. Gubal, Gebal, etc.) can be derived from gb, meaning "well" or "origin", and El, the name of the supreme god of Byblos' pantheon. The present-day city is known by the Arabic name Jubayl or Jbeil (جبيل), a direct descendant of the Canaanite name. Notwithstanding the Arabic name is most likely derived from the Phoenician word GBL meaning "boundary", "district" or "mountain peak"; in the Ugaritic GBL can mean "mountain", similarly to Arabic jabal.
The Greek Βύβλος, whence we get our Byblos, was the interpretation of Phoenician 𐤂𐤁𐤋 (Gebal). Papyrus received its early Greek name βύβλος (bublos) from its importation to the Aegean through this city. The Greek words βίβλος, diminutive βιβλίον (vivlos, vivlion), plural βίβλοι, diminutive βιβλία (vivli, vivlia), and ultimately the word "Bible" ("the (papyrus) book") hence the Holy Bible, derive from that name.
History and archaeology
Byblos is located about 42 km (26 mi) north of Beirut. It is attractive to archaeologists because of the successive layers of debris resulting from centuries of human habitation. It was first excavated by Pierre Montet from 1921 until 1924, followed by Maurice Dunand from 1925 over a period of forty years.
The site first appears to have been settled throughout the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, approximately 8800 to 7000 BC. Neolithic remains of a few buildings can be observed at the site. According to the writer Philo of Byblos (quoting Sanchuniathon, and quoted in Eusebius), Byblos had the reputation of being the oldest city in the world, founded by Cronus. During the third millennium BC, the first signs of a town can be observed, with the remains of well-built houses of uniform size. This was the period when the Canaanite civilization began to develop.
Neolithic and Chalcolithic levels
Jacques Cauvin published studies of flint tools from the stratified Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites in 1962. Remains of humans found in Chalcolithic burials have been published by H.V. Vallois in 1937. Tombs from this era were discussed by Emir M. Chehab in 1950. Early pottery found at the tell was published by E.S. Boynton in 1960 with further studies by R. Erich in 1954 and Van Liere and Henri de Contenson in 1964.
Five levels stratigraphy
- Néolithique Ancien (Early Phase) (Ancient Neolithic) corresponding to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) of Jericho, represented by plastered floors and naviforme technology, dated between 8800 and 7000 BC;
- Néolithique Ancien (Late Phase) corresponding to the PNA of Jericho IX (also Yarmukian) between 6400 and 5800 BC represented by pottery, sickle blades, figurines and small points, dated between 6400 and 5800 BC;
- Néolithique Moyen (Middle Neolithic) corresponding to the PNB of Jericho VIII and represented by pottery, dated between 5800 and 5300 BC;
- Néolithique Récent (Late Neolithic) corresponding to the Middle Chalcolithic of Beth Shean and represented by pottery, stone vessels, silos, chamber tombs and seals, dated between 5300 and 4500 BC;
- Énéolithique Ancient (Ancient Chalcolithic) corresponding to the Late Chalcolithic of Ghassulian, represented by jar burials, pierced flint, churn and a violin figurine, dated to between 4500 and 3600 BC and,
- Énéolithique Récent (Late Chalcolithic) corresponding to the Early Bronze Age, represented by architecture and cylinder seal impressions, dated to between 3600 and 3100 BC.
Néolithique Ancien was a later settlement than others in the Beqaa Valley such as Labweh and Ard Tlaili. It was located on the seaward slope of the larger of the two hills that used to compose ancient Byblos, with a watered valley in between.
The original site spread down into the valley and covered an area of 1.2 hectares (12,000 m2) providing fertile soils and a protected landing place for boats. Dunand discovered around twenty houses although a few of the settlement was suggested to have been lost to the sea, robbed or destroyed. Dwellings were rectangular with plastered floors, pottery was usually Dark faced burnished ware with a few shell impressions.
Néolithique Moyen was a smaller settlement of no more than 0.15 hectares (1,500 m2) adjacent to the older site. The pottery was more developed with red washes and more varied forms and elaborate decorations, buildings were poorer with unplastered floors.
The Néolithique Récent period showed development from the Moyen in building design, a wider range of more developed flint tools and a far larger variety of pottery with fabrication including silica. Énéolithique Ancien featured developments of "Canaanean blades" and fan scrapers. Adult burials in jars started to seem along with metal in the form of one copper hook, found in a jar. Some jars were lined with white plaster that was applied and self-hardened after firing. Copper appeared more frequently in the Énéolithique Récent period along with multiple burials in tombs and jar handles with impressed signs. Early Bronze Age remains were characterised by the development of Byblos combed ware and a lithic assemblage studied by Jacques Cauvin.
Watson Mills and Roger Bullard suggest that throughout the Old Kingdom, Byblos was virtually an Egyptian colony. The growing city was evidently a wealthy one and seems to have been an ally (among "those who're on his waters") of Egypt for a large number of centuries. First Dynasty tombs used timbers from Byblos. One of the oldest Egyptian words for an oceangoing boat was "Byblos ship". Archaeologists have recovered Egyptian-made artefacts as old as a vessel fragment bearing the name of the Second dynasty ruler Khasekhemwy, although this "may easily have reached Byblos through trade and/or at a later period.". Objects have been found at Byblos naming the thirteenth Dynasty Egyptian king Neferhotep I, and the rulers of Byblos maintained close relationships with the New Kingdom pharaohs of Ancient Egypt.
Around 1350 BC, the Amarna tablets include 60 letters from Rib-Hadda and his successor Ili-Rapih who were rulers of Byblos, writing to the Egyptian government. This is mainly due to Rib-Hadda's constant pleas for military assistance from Akhenaten. They additionally deal with the conquest of neighbouring city-states by the Hapiru.
It appears Egyptian contact peaked throughout the 19th dynasty, only to decline throughout the 20th and 21st dynasties. Although the archaeological evidence seems to indicate a brief resurgence throughout the 22nd and 23rd dynasties, it is clear after the Third Intermediate Period the Egyptians started favouring Tyre and Sidon instead of Byblos.
Archaeological evidence at Byblos, particularly the five Byblian royal inscriptions dating back to around 1200-1000 BC, shows existence of a Phoenician alphabetic script of twenty-two characters; an important example is the sarcophagus of king Ahiram. The use of the alphabet was spread by Phoenician merchants through their maritime trade into parts of North Africa and Europe. One of the most important monuments of this period is the temple of Resheph, a Canaanite war god, but this had fallen into ruins by the time of Alexander.
In the Assyrian period, Sibittibaal of Byblos became tributary to Tiglath-pileser III in 738 BC, and in 701 BC, when Sennacherib conquered all Phoenicia, the king of Byblos was Urumilki. Byblos was additionally subject to Assyrian kings Esarhaddon (r. 681–669 BC) and Ashurbanipal (r. 668–627 BC), under its own kings Milkiasaph and Yehawmelek.
During the Greco-Roman period, the temple of Resheph was elaborately rebuilt, and the city, though smaller than its neighbours such as Tyre and Sidon, was a centre for the cult of Adonis. In the third century, a small but impressive theater was constructed. With the rise of Christianity, a bishopric was established in Byblos, and the town grew rapidly. Although a Persian colony is known to have been established in the region following the Moslem conquest of 636, there's little archaeological evidence for it. Trade with Europe effectively dried up, and it wasn't until the coming of the First Crusade in 1098 that prosperity returned to Byblos, known then as Gibelet or Jebail.
Byblos, under the name of Gibelet or Giblet, was an important military base in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in the eleventh and twelfth century, ruled by the Embriaco family, and the remains of its Crusader castle are among the most impressive architectural structures now visible at its center. The town was taken by Saladin in 1187, re-taken by the Crusaders, and eventually conquered by Baibars in 1266. Its fortifications were subsequently restored. From 1516 until 1918, the town and the whole region were part of the Ottoman Empire. Byblos and all of Lebanon was placed under French Mandate from 1920 until 1943 when Lebanon achieved independence.
Byblos is home to the professional schools of the Lebanese American University. The LAU Byblos Campus houses the Medical School, the Engineering School, the School of Architecture and Design, the only US accredited Pharmacy School in the Middle East, the School of Business, and the School of Arts and Sciences. The Campus is situated on a hill overlooking the city and the Mediterranean Sea.
Byblos is re-emerging as an upscale touristic hub. With its ancient port, Phoenician, Roman, and Crusader ruins, sandy beaches and the picturesque mountains that surround it make it an ideal tourist destination. The city is known for its fish restaurants, open-air bars, and outdoor cafes. Yachts cruise into its harbour today as they did in the 1960s and '70's when Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra were regular visitors to the city.
- Ancient Phoenician temples
The Byblos archaeological site contains the remains of the Great Temple (also known as L-Shaped temple) and the Temple of Ba‘alat Gebal, both built around 2700 BC, as well as the Temple of the Obelisks, built around 1600 BC.
- Byblos Castle
Byblos Castle was built by the Crusaders in the twelfth century. It is located in the archaeological site near the port.
- Medieval city wall
The old mediaeval part of Byblos is surrounded by walls running about 270m from east to west and 200m from north to south.
The old mosque by the Castle dates back to Mamlouk times in mid 1600, and adopted the name of Sultan Abdul Majid after he renovated it.
- Byblos Wax Museum
The Byblos Wax Museum displays wax statues of characters whose dates of origin range from Phoenician times to current days.
- St John the Baptist Church
Work on the church started throughout the Crusades in 1116. It was considered a cathedral and was partially destroyed throughout an earthquake in 1176 AD. When Islamic forces captured the city, it was transformed into a set of stables. It was later given to the Maronites as a gift by Prince Youssef Chehab of Lebanon in the mid-1700s, after they aided him in capturing the city.
- Byblos Fossil Museum
The Byblos Fossil Museum has a collection of fossilised fish, sharks, eel, flying fish, and additional marine life, a few of which are millions of years old.
- Historic Quarter and Souks
In the southeast section of the historic city, near the entrance of the archaeological site, is an old market where tourists can shop for souvenirs and antiques, or simply stroll along the old cobblestone streets and enjoy the architecture.
- Byblos International Festival
This summer music festival is an annual event that takes place in the historic quarter.
Threats to Byblos
The 2006 Lebanon War negatively affected the ancient city by covering its harbour and town walls with an oil slick that was the result of an oil spill from a nearby power-plant . This however has been cleared and the coastal area has after then become a destination for beach goers, especially in the late spring and throughout the summer season.
Today, Byblos is a modern city that retains its historical past. Byblos remains as one of Lebanon's major tourist sites due to its rich history, scenic mountains, and Mediterranean views. Most residents of Byblos are Maronite Catholics. There are additionally a few Shi'i Muslims that remain whose ancestors were inhabitants of the city before expulsion at the end of the thirteenth century by the Mamluk Turks based on a fatwa from Ibn Taymiyyah. It is said that the city of Bint Jbeil ("daughter of Jbeil") in southern Lebanon was founded by those displaced Shi'i Muslims. Byblos has three representatives in the Parliament of Lebanon: two Maronites and one Shi'i. Byblos was crowned as the "Arab Tour Capital" for the year 2016 by the Lebanese minister of tourism in the Grand Serail in Beirut.