You’re standing on a windy hillside near the ruins of a limestone castle. Medieval walls and ancient temples are nearby. A busy port, sandy beaches, and the blue Mediterranean Sea are in the distance. Cedar mountains are behind you. And Chiffchaffs chirp from the edge of the tree line. Welcome to one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Byblos is located 25 miles north of Beirut, though it feels worlds apart. It was first settled during the Neolithic Period, sometime between 8800-7000 BC. The Phoenicians created the first alphabet here, the Greeks gave it its name, and everyone else added layer upon layer to the city. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that people visit for not only the historic places, but also the souk and the waterfront.
You started at Byblos Castle. The Crusaders built it in the 12th century to fend off attacks from the sea. They used granite columns from old Roman buildings and dug a moat to further ensure their safety. The ruins of three ancient Phoenician temples are close to the castle. The L-shaped Great Temple was built for the Egyptian god of war. The Temple of Ba’alat Gebal was created for the goddess who looked after sea captains. And the Temple of the Obelisks had an inner sanctuary to honor those who had passed away. The ruins of a Roman amphitheater, a Mamlouk mosque, and St. John the Baptist Church are nearby, too.
When the temperature rises, leave the open-air ruins for the more enclosed souk. Cobblestone alleys are lined with little shops. Restaurants set up tables outside. Pink oleander trees provide lots of shade. People try to coax you to buy scarves and vases, but you’re more tempted by the food. You stop at a little café for mezze plates, an Almaza beer, and people watching. You stay much longer than you planned.
After a second beer, you head toward the water. First, you walk along the sandy beach and dip your toes in the water while kids splash beside you. Then you stroll through the port. It was once a large timber-shipping center. Now little, wooden fishing boats bob in the water. The air is heavy with salt and seafood. And more little restaurants line the waterfront.
This time, you grab a table at Bab el Mina, a restaurant with views of old sandstone buildings and the calm water. Calamari, shrimp, and grilled fish start appearing, and you try Lebanese wine for the first time. You’ll be content here for the rest of the evening. One of the world’s oldest cities may also be one of the cutest.