Gebal, Byblos, Jbeil, three names for one place, encapsulating a historical unity, dating from the dawn of time and still evocative. This picturesque town raised above the sea that breaks onto its shores, with its temples shining with the first sunlight like guardians on its slight hill, narrates humbly the story of mankind.
Byblos is a testimony to a history of uninterrupted construction from the first settlement by a community of fishermen dating back 8000 years, through the first town buildings, the monumental temples of the Bronze Age, to the Persian fortifications, the Roman road, Byzantine churches, the Crusade citadel and the Medieval and Ottoman town.
Continuously inhabited since Neolithic times, Byblos bears outstanding witness to the beginnings of the Phoenician civilization. The evolution of the town is evident in the structures that are scattered around the site, dating from the different periods.
The Phoenician alphabet was developed at Byblos, and the site has yielded almost all of the known early Phoenician inscriptions, most of them dating from the 10th century B.C, with the most ancient Phoenician inscription carved on the sarcophagus of Ahiram. It is during the period of Egyptian occupation that the Phoenicians developed arguably their most important contribution to the world: their alphabet of 22 characters, which replaced cuneiform in written communication. Through trade, the Phoenician alphabet traveled first to Greece around 800 B.C and then spread to other countries through Greek merchants.
Byblos is its Greek name. Papyrus received its early Greek name (byblos, byblinos) from its being exported to the Aegean through Byblos. Hence the English word Bible is derived from byblos as “the (papyrus) book,” ta biblia, which means ‘the books’. The Phoenicians named the city Gebal and it was thus called Jbeil in Arabic, meaning little mountain. It was the first city built by the Phoenicians. A wealthy colony, Byblos plied its trade from the sea through fishing, shipping, and trade. Making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world, if not the oldest.
Modern archaeological excavations have revealed that Byblos was occupied at least by the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age; 8000 − 4000 B.C) and that during the 4th millennium B.C an extensive settlement developed there. The ruins today consist of the Crusader fortifications and gate; a Roman colonnade and small theatre; Phoenician ramparts, three major temples, and a necropolis; and remains of Neolithic dwellings. Byblos was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984.
It’s quite a feast, walking through the history of mankind. Yesterdays Phoenician world soar above todays with the most succulent view of the sea.
The sea breeze murmurs the memoirs of its past hails, twirling around its sites. This sea of eternal time and all of histories, low and high, is forever silently watching. If you listen carefully it tells of Phoenicians past bloom and past glory memoir. Its waves sweep like a broom whatever humanity leaves beneath this ancient site.
The very mention of history brings to mind many civilizations, its wars, with endless succession of ruling dynasties and kings; Its many dates and events, which appear to be rather dull and boring. “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten”, said Rudyard Kipling.
History is a dynamic linear progression, adapting and evolving with changing times, as present recedes into the past all the while. On this site, we remain as a living part of history all the while. Yet while we live through history, we fail to realize the impact we make upon history and time; and this is perhaps its very magic and enigma, which occasionally lends it a touch of mystery.
To my Lebanon, with all its mysteries…