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Treasures of the East : Byblos: The oldest inhabited city in the world

EN - Wednesday, 10 February 2021

7.000 years! How can you summarize in just a few lines the history of Byblos, a jewel of Antiquity lying on the sea, north of Beirut?

While men called him Gebal, it is said that Isis found the corpse of her husband Osiris, murdered by the dark Seth. Byblos and Egypt have a long love story. Saved by the sons of Horus, Gebal pledged its allegiance to them and historians believe that it was, for several centuries, a powerful Egyptian colony that imbued itself with the culture, knowledge and gods of its master. Thanks to the sale of cedar wood and its navigators, baptized "princes of the sea", Egyptian gold and the riches of the Mediterranean flowed into the city. The papyrus trade, ancestor of paper designated in Greek by the name "Byblos" gives its name to the coastal city. Free and independent again, Gebal reigned as the commercial capital of one of the most influential civilizations in the known world of the time: Phenicia.

sos chretiens orient liban citadelle de byblosThere would still be a thousand things to say about the history of this city: the invention of the Phoenician alphabet, the power of these princes of the sea, until its long decline to fall into the arms of Alexander then into the hands of Rome. But let's move on. Because in the 12th century the Crusaders took the city from the Saracens and built the imposing castle of Gibelet, which remains can still be seen. The church of Saint-Jean-Marc is one of the many wonders of Romanesque art. A slight misalignment between the portal and the altar was corrected during the construction of the central nave. The geniuses who were the medieval workers and master builders thus played with the size and arrangement of the cut stones so that the altar was perfectly "oriented." In 1266, the city was abandoned by the Europeans and passes to the Ottomans. The Turkish occupation pushed the English navy to bomb the city in the 19th century. This attack left scars: cannonballs frozen in the walls of forts and walls and the destruction of the facades of the church which then served as a stable for the horses of the fighters of the Sublime Porte. Lost and recaptured, Byblos was completely abandoned by Europe in 1266 and ruled by the Ottomans until the arrival of France.

It was under the French mandate and the impetus of Ernest Renan that the research of French historians and archaeologists revealed the ancient ruins of the ancient wonder. The glorious Byblos then turned into a small oriental paradise where Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando came to find the exoticism and the rest offered by this setting of the greatest civilizations that reigned over the Mediterranean.