About Byblos

Welcome To BYBLOS

Byblos is one of the top contenders for the “oldest continuously inhabited city” award. According to Phoenician tradition it was founded by the god El, and even the Phoenicians considered it a city of great antiquity. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of Byblos goes back at least 7000 years.
Ironically, the words "Byblos" and "Phoenicia" would not have been recognized by the city's early inhabitants. For several thousand years it was called "Gubla" and later "Gebal" while the term "Canaan" was supplied to the coast in general.

Roman theatre rebuilt near the sea

It was the Greeks, some time after 1200 B.C., who gave us the name "Phoenicia" referring to the coastal area. And they called the city "Byblos" ("papyrus" in Greek), because this commercial center was important in the papyrus trade.

Today Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic) on the coast 37 Kilometers north of Beirut, is a prosperous place with glass-fronted office buildings and crowded streets. But within the old town, medieval Arab and Crusader remains are continuous reminders of the past. Nearby are the extensive excavations that make Byblos one of the most important archaeological sites in the area.


About 7000 years ago a small Neolithic fishing community settled along the shore and several of their monocellular huts with crushed limestone floors can be seen on the site. Many tools and weapons of this stone age period have been found as well.

The Chalcolithic Period (4000-3000 B.C.) saw a continuation of the same way of life, but brought with it new burial customs where the deceased were laid in large pottery jars and buried with their earthly possessions.

By the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (about 3000 B.C.) Canaanite Byblos had developed into the most important timber shipping center on the eastern Mediterranean and ties with Egypt were very close. The Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom needed the cedar and other wood for shipbuilding, tomb construction and funerary ritual. In return, Egypt sent gold, alabaster, papyrus rolls, papyrus rope and linen. Thus began a period of prosperity, wealth and intense commercial activity.

Detail of the sacrophagus of Ahiram, 13th century B.C

(National Museum of Beirut).

By the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (about 3000 B.C.) Canaanite Byblos had developed into the most important timber shipping center on the eastern Mediterranean and ties with Egypt were very close. The Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom needed the cedar and other wood for shipbuilding, tomb construction and funerary ritual. In return, Egypt sent gold, alabaster, papyrus rolls, papyrus rope and linen. Thus began a period of prosperity, wealth and intense commercial activity.

Several centuries later Amorite tribes from the desert overran the coastal region and set fire to Byblos. But once the Amorites had settled in, the city was rebuilt and Egypt again began to send costly gifts to Byblos. Treasures from the royal tombs of Byblos show the great wells that flooded this city.

Around 1200 B.C. a wave of the so-called “Sea Peoples” from the north spread to the eastern Mediterranean, and some settled on the southern coast of Canaan. These seafarers probably contributed their skills to the maritime society we know today as Phoenicia.

General view of Byblos

About this same time the scribes of Byblos developed an alphabetic phonetic script, the precursor of our modern alphabet. By 800 B.C., it had traveled to Greece, changing forever the way man communicated. The earliest form of the Phoenician alphabet found to date is the inscription on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos.
Throughout the first millennium B.C., Byblos continued to benefit from trade in spite of Assyrian and Babylonian encroachments. Then came the Persians who held sway from 550-330 B.C. The remains of a fortress outside the Early Bronze Age city walls from this period show that Byblos was a strategic part of the Persian defense system in the eastern Mediterranean.
After conquest by Alexander the Great, Byblos was rapidly hellenized and Greek became the language of the local intelligentsia. During this Hellenistic Period (330-64 B.C.), resident of Byblos adopted Greek customs and culture. Both the Greek language and culture persisted throughout the Roman era, which was to come.

In the first century B.C. the Romans under Pompey took over Byblos and other Phoenician cities, ruling them from 64 B.C. to 395 A.D. In Byblos they built large temples, baths and other public buildings as well as a street bordered by a colonnade that surrounded the city.

Bronze figurines covered in gold from the temple of Obelisks

(National Museum of Beirut)

The Crusader castle

There are few remains of the Byzantine Period (395-637 A.D.) in Byblos, partly because construction was of soft sandstone and generally of poor quality. Byzantine stones were also quarried for later buildings. During this era the city became the see of a Christian bishopric.

Under Arab rule beginning 637 A.D. Byblos was generally peaceful but it had declined in importance over the centuries and archaeological evidence from this period is fragmentary

In 1104 Byblos fell to the Crusaders who came upon the large stones and granite columns of the Roman buildings and used them for their castle and moat.

With the departure of the Crusaders, Byblos continued under Mamluke and Ottoman rule as a small fishing town, and its antique remains were gradually covered with dust.


Before Byblos was excavated, the ruins of successive cities had formed a mound about 12 meters high covered with houses and gardens. The ancient site was rediscovered in 1860 by the French writer and savant Ernest Renan, who made a survey of the area. In 1921-1924 Pierre Montet, a French Egyptologist, began excavations, which confirmed trade relations between Byblos and ancient Egypt. Maurice Dunand began his work in Byblos in 1925 and continued with various campaigns until 1975.

Baptistry of the crusader church of St. John


A thriving modern town with an ancient heart, Byblos is a mix of sophistication and tradition. The old harbor is sheltered from the sea by a rocky headland. Nearby are the excavated remains of the ancient city, the Crusader castle and church and the old market area.

For a real taste of Byblos, stroll trough the streets and byways. This part of town is a collection of old walls (some medieval) overlapping properties and intriguing half-ruins. Don’t hesitate to explore. Should you happen to intrude on someone’s property the hospitable townspeople will be pleased to show you around.

The area of excavations is surrounded by a wall with the entrance at the Crusader castle. To get a good view of this large, somewhat complex site, either climb to the top of castle or walk around the periphery from outside the wall to identify the major monuments.

1. Remains of a city Gate dating from the third millennium B.C. Located on the left side of the castle, this gate appears as a wide opening between two ancient stone ramparts. Traces of fire are visible, recalling the Amorite invasion about 2300-1900 B.C.


2. A Primitive Wall built before 2500 B.C., this is the oldest fortification on the site.


3. Foundations of the Temple “en L” (so called because of its shape) erected in 2700 B.C. A section of charred stone at the entrance of the sacred court is evidence the temple was destroyed by fire, probably at that time of the Amorite invasions 2300-1900 B.C. Terra cotta basins set in a bench of masonry behind the entrance probably held water for ritual ablutions.


4. The large empty area adjacent to the “Temple en-L” and the Temple of Baalat Gebal was occupied by the Sacred Pool.


5. Temple of the Obelisks, originally built on top of the “Temple en L” was moved by archaeologists to its present location. Its scores of small obelisks were used as votive offerings. Altogether over 1,306 offerings have been uncovered, including human figurines of bronze covered with gold leaf.


6. The area that was once the Spring called “Ayn el-Malik” can be seen in a large cistern constructed of irregular stone. This was the main source of water for Byblos. In the Isis and Osiris myth, Isis met the queen’s maidservants here.


7. Enclosure and houses of the pre-urban period (about 3200-3000 B.C.).


8. Foundations of three houses. The lower one is from the Chalcolithic, the upper one from the pre-urban period (second half of the forth millennium B.C.). A little farther south is a third house in whose rooms can be seen seven stone bases which held the wooden pillars used for the superstructure.


9. Remains of a large Early Bronze Age Residence (third millennium B.C.) in whose rooms can be seen three rows of five stone pillar bases, each of which held wooden pillars used for the superstructure.


10. Early Bronze Age building foundations (third millennium B.C.).


11. House foundations of the Amorite conquest period (2150-2000 B.C.).


12-15. Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlements (fifth and fourth millennia B.C.). Remains of several monocellular huts with crushed limestone floors can be seen in the area between the Early Bronze Age Residence (9) and the seashore. Archaeologists have found cultural installations or temples in two structures: the first one, with an apsidal shape, is located at the northern edge of this area (14) and the second one (15) at the southern edge.


16. The Amorite Quarry is a large excavation in the rock behind the Baalat Gebal temple.


17. Early Bronze Age House located near the quarry. The thick walls of its seaside façade are notable for their fine construction.


18. Remains of the Temple of Baalat Gebal (2700 B.C.), dedicated to the “Lady of Byblos,” the goddess who was to preside over the city for over two millennia. Constructed when Byblos had close ties with Egypt, this large and important temple was rebuilt a number of times, remaining in use until the Roman period when it was replaced by a Roman style structure.


19. Reconstructed Roman Theater. The theater, which has only five tiers remaining, was built about 218 A.D. It was removed from its original site between the City Gate (1) and the two superimposed temples (3 and 5), to its present location near the sea. The black pebbles in the center mark the place of a mosaic, which has been preserved in the National Museum.


20-28. Royal Tombs. The necropolis dates to the 2nd millennium B.C. and contains nine underground tombs of the Byblos kings. The most important is that of king Ahiram, whose sarcophagus bears one of the earliest inscriptions of the Phoenician alphabet. This sarcophagus is one of the masterpieces found in the National Museum of Beirut.

29. Esplanade. This is a level space near the Roman theater, which is strewn with architectural fragments.


30. Roman Colonnade. These six standing columns lined a north-south street (300 A.D.) that led to the temple of “Lady of Byblos” or Baalat-Gebal.


31-32. Ramparts, glacis and City Walls of the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C. Located inside the modern wall on the right side of the Castle entrance, those structures show successive stages of construction and restoration. The indented wall belongs to the fortifications of the 3rd millennium, while the terraced slopes or glacis made of large blocks, goes back to the Hyksos period (1725-1580 B.C.).


33. Roman Nympheun. Located to the left of the Castle entrance, this monument was decorated with a niche filled with statues and enlivened by fountains. The roads coming into city from the north, converged on the fine pavement that stretched in front of the nympheun.


34. The site of the Crusader Castle was originally occupied by a Fatimid fortification. In the beginning of the 12th century, the Crusaders built a strong fortress, re-using Roman stonework and cutting new stones to match the old. The castle consisted of a central keep, courtyard and enclosure. With four towers defending the corners and a fifth in the middle of the north wall to defend the entrance. The whole was originally surrounded by a moat. In Mamluke and Ottoman times the castle was reused and some parts of it were restored.

35. Persian castle.


The harbor of Byblos


After visiting the archaeological site, a quick and entertaining introduction to Lebanon’s past can be found at the Wax Museum near the castle. The Wax figures illustrate scenes from the history and rural life of the country. There is a modest entrance fee.

With its many restaurants, snack bars, souvenir shops and hotels, Byblos is well prepared to welcome tourists.




Out of old Byblos and into the town’s higher elevations in the foothills are a number of very old churches such as the catacomb-like Mar Nohra cut from rock and the Mar Semaan chapel.

Just north of Byblos, Amchit sits on the coast and climbs briefly up the lower elevations of Mt. Lebanon. This town has the country’s only organized campsite, a pleasant, clean place with attractive beaches available to campers. The town is well known for its lovely traditional houses. Among others, there is the home of the French writer Ernest Renan who lived in Amchit in 19th century.

Nahr Ibrahim, 6 kilometers south of Byblos. This valley of the ancient Adonis River is one of the most wild and beautiful in Lebanon. The road leads to the source at Afqa high in the mountains, were you would find the ruins of the great temple of Aphrodite-Venus in front of the cave.

Information Collected From The Ministry of Tourism