About Anjar

ANJAR

AN UMAYYAD SITE OF LEBANON

Anjar

Aanjar, 58 kilometers from Beirut, is completely different from any other archeological experience you'll have in Lebanon. At other historical site in the country, different epochs and civilizations are superimposed one on the top of the other.

Aanjar is exclusively one period, the Umayyad.


Lebanon's other sites were founded millennia ago, but Aanjar is a relative new-comer, going back to the early 8th century A.D. Unlike Tyre and Byblos, which claim habitation since the day they were founded, Aanjar flourished for only a few decades.

Other than a small Umayyad mosque in Baalbeck, we have few other remnants from this important period of Arab history.

Aanjar also stands unique as the only historical example of an inland commercial center. The city benefited from its strategic position on intersecting trade routes leading to Damascus, Homs, and Baalbeck and to the south. This almost perfect quadrilateral of ruins lies in the midst of some of the richest agricultural land in Lebanon. It is only a short distance from gushing springs and one of the important sources of the Litani River. Today's name, Anjar comes from the Arabic Ain Gerrha, "the source of Gerrha" the name of an ancient city founded in this area during Hellenistic times.

Anjar
The Tetrapylon, a monumental entrance with four gates.

Aanjar has a special beauty. The city's slender columns and fragile arches stand in contrast to the massive bulk of the nearby Anti-Lebanon mountains- an eerie background for Aanjar extensive ruins and the memories of its short but energetic moment in history.

HISTORY, AANJAR'S MASTERS, THE UMAYYADS

The Umayyad, the first hereditary dynasty of Islam, ruled from Damascus in the first century after the Prophet Mohammed, from 660 to 750 A.D. They are credited with great Arab conquests that created an Islamic empire stretching from the Indus Valley to southern France.


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Aerial view of the site of Anjar

Skilled in administration and planning, their rivals prospered for 100 years. Defeat befell them when the Abbasids- their rivals and their successors- took advantage of the Umayyad's increasing decadence.

Some chronicles and literary documents inform us that it was Walid I, son of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who built the city, probably between 705 and 715 A.D.

Walid's son Ibrahim lost Aanjar when he was defeated by his cousin Marwan II in a battle two kilometers from the city.


EXCAVATING AANJAR

Just after Lebanon gained independence in 1943, the country's General Directorate of Antiquities began to investigate a strip of land in the Beqaa valley sandwiched between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains some 58 kilometers east of Beirut. This was Aanjar, then a stretch of bland bareness with parched shrubbery and stagnant swamps that covered the vast area of these archeological remains.


The site at first seemed painfully modest, especially when compared with the rest of Lebanon's archeological wonders. What attracted the antiquities experts to Aanjar was not so much the ruins themselves as the impersonal grayness of Aanjar, the experts of the eighth century Umayyad dynasty sway over an empire.

That idea was particularly interesting because Lebanon - that unique crossroads of the ages- boasted ample all stages of Arab history with the exception of the Umayyad. Early in the excavation engineers drained the swamp. Stands of evergreen cypresses and eucalyptus trees were planted and flourish today, giving these stately ruins a park-like setting.

Anjar
The public Baths

To date, almost the entire site has been excavated and some monuments have been restored. Among the chief structures are the Palace I and the Mosque in the southeast, the Palace II in the northwest and the Palace III and public bath in the northeast.


VISITING THE SITE

To sense the vastness of the city, drive around the outside of the fortified enclosures (9) before entering the 114,000 square-meter site. The north-south walls run 370 meters and the east-west sides extend 310 meters. The walls are two meters thick and built from a core of mud and rubble with an exterior facing of smaller layers of blocks.

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General view of the site

Against the interior of the enclosures are three stairways built on each side. They gave access to the top of the walls where guards circulated and protected the town.

Each wall has an imposing gate, and towers (40 in all) are sited on each stretch of wall. The Umayyad's hundred-year history is steeped in war and conquest. Apparently their rulers felt that these wall and tower defenses were a necessary feature of their architecture.


Nearly 60 inscriptions and graffiti from Umayyad times are scattered on the city's surrounding walls. One of them, dated 123 of the Hegira (741 A.D) is located in the western wall between the fourth and fifth tower from the southwest.

Today visitors enter through the northern gate of the site but as the main points of interest are at the southern half of the city, it's better to walk up the main street (6) to the far end of the site. You are walking along the 20-meter-wide Carlo Maximus (a Latin term meaning a major street running north and south) which is flanked by shops, some of which have been reconstructed. At the half way point of this commercial street a second major street (7) called Decumanus Maximus (running east to west) cuts across it at right angles. It is also flanked by shops. Anjar
The cardo maximus lined with shops
In all, 600 shops have been uncovered, giving Aanjar the right to call itself a major Umayyad strip mall. The masonry work, of Byzantine origin, consists of courses of cut stone alternating with courses of brick. This technique, credited to the Byzantine, reduced the effects of earthquakes.

At the city's crossroads you'll have your first hint that the Umayyads were great recycles.
Tetrapylons mark the four corners of the intersection. This configuration, called a tetrastyle (8) is remarkably reminiscent of Roman architecture.

Anjar
The Great Palace

One of the tetrapylons has been reconstructed with its full quota of four columns. Note the Greek inscriptions at the bases and the Corinthian capitals with their characteristic carved acanthus leaves delightful to look at but definitely not original to the Umayyads.

A city with 600 shops and an over-whelming concern for security must have required a fair number of people. Keeping this in mind, archaeologists looked for remains of an extensive residential area and found it just beyond the tetrastyle to the southwest (5). However, these residential quarters received the least attention from archeologists and need further excavation.


Along both sides of the streets you'll see evenly spaced column bases and mostly fallen columns that were once part of an arcade that ran the length of the street. Enough of these have been reconstructed to allow your imagination finish the job.

The columns of the arcade are by no means homogeneous; they differ in type and size and are crowned by varying capitals. More of them are Byzantine, more indication that the Umayyads helped themselves to Byzantine and other ruins scattered around the area.


On your way to the arcaded palace ahead, notice the numerous slabs of stone that cover the top of the city's drainage and sewage system. These manholes are convincing evidence of the city's well-planned infrastructure.

The great or main palace itself (1) was the first landmark to emerge in 1949 when Aanjar was discovered. One wall and several arcades of the southern half of the palace have been reconstructed. As you stand in the 40-square-meter open courtyard, it is easy to picture the place towering around you on all four sides.

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Reconstructed façade of the Great Palace


Just to the north of the palace are the sparse remains of a mosque (2) measuring 45*32 meters.

The mosque had two public entrances and a private one for the caliph.

If you enjoy a good game of archeological hide and seek, the second palace (3) is the place for you.

It is decorated with much finer and more intricate engravings, rich in motifs borrowed from the Greco-Roman tradition.


1. The Great Palace

2. The Mosque

3. The little Palace

4. The Public Bath

5. Residential quarters

6. Cardo Maximus

7. Documanus Maximus

8. Tetrapylon

9. Fortified enclosure


Very little reconstruction has been done are in their natural state. With patience you will find stone carvings of delightful owls, eagles, seashells and the famous acanthus leaves.

More evidence of the Umayyads' dependence on the architectural traditions of other cultures appears some 20 meters north of this second palace. These Umayyad baths contain the three classical sections of the Roman bath: the vestiary where patrons changed clothing before their bath: the vestiary where patrons changed clothing before their bath and rested afterwards, and three rooms for cold, warm and hot water. Anjar
A façade of the Great Palace

The size of the vestiary indicates the bath was more than a source of physical well being but also a center for social interaction. A second, smaller, bath of similar design is marked on the map (4).

AANJAR TODAY

Aanjar is open daily:
Close to the ruins of Aanjar are a number of restaurants which offer fresh trout plus a full array of Lebanese and Armenian dishes. Some of the restaurants are literally built over the trout ponds. Aanjar has no hotels but lodging can be found Chtaura 15 kilometers away.



Information Collected From The Ministry of Tourism