Ancient Phoenician Temples in Byblos, Lebanon

The Phoenicians settled Byblos as a seaport for trade.
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Situated on the coast of present-day Lebanon, Byblos is one of the oldest Phoenician cities. The ruins of other ancient civilizations are also found there, including those of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. The name Byblos is of Greek origin. First settled during the Neolithic period -- as early as the ninth millennium B.C. -- Byblos has been occupied for thousands of years. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Byblos is counted among the world's richest archaeological treasures.

1 History and Archaeology

The Phoenicians were a seafaring people who settled in Byblos, using it as a commercial port. From the third millennium B.C., they flourished as successful merchants and sailors, dominating sea trade in the region. They established other colonies throughout the Mediterranean, including Carthage. During the first millennium BC, the Phoenicians enjoyed a peak of prosperity, trading precious metals and other goods such as cedar timber, papyrus, wine and olive oil. They also exported a reddish-purple cloth, for which the Greeks dubbed them "phoinikes" meaning "red people" -- a term that evolved into Phoenicians. After conquest by Alexander the Great, Phoenician civilization began to fade around 350 B.C.

2 The Temple of Ba'alat Gebal

Today, Byblos is also called Jbeil. The Phoenician name for Byblos was Gublu, later known in the Bible as Gebal. In approximately 2700 B.C., the Phoenicians built the Temple of Ba'alat Gebal, a shrine to the goddess of the city. Because of Phoenician exports to Egypt, including cedar oil for mummification, the pharaohs venerated the goddess of Byblos. Phoenicians acquired Egyptian votive offerings, which archaeologists have discovered within the temple ruins. The Amorites, an ancient people from neighboring Syria, did not show the same reverence. They invaded Byblos around 2150 B.C., setting fire to the city and destroying the Temple of Ba'alat Gebal. Much of the temple's original structure got buried under a deep layer of ash.

3 The Great Temple

The ruins of the Great Temple date to around 2600 B.C. An L-shaped structure, the Great Temple consisted of a courtyard and two buildings positioned in a perpendicular line. The Great Temple was built facing the Temple of Ba'alat Gebal. It is believed to have been dedicated to Reshef, a god of war in Phoenician mythology. During the invasion of the Amorites, the temple was destroyed.

4 The Temple of the Obelisks

After the Amorite invasion, the Phoenicians reconstructed Byblos with new temples. The Temple of the Obelisks is the best known example of this period. Not far from the site of the Great Temple, the Temple of the Obelisks was built between 1900 and 1600 B.C. Some of its features were inspired by Egyptian architectural design. Numerous obelisks surround the temple ruins. The Temple of the Obelisks was probably dedicated to Reshef.

Shannon Leigh O'Neil, a New York City-based arts and culture writer, has been writing professionally since 2008. Her articles have appeared in "GO Magazine," "The New York Blade" and "HX Magazine," as well as online media. O'Neil holds a Master of Arts in modern art history from the City College of New York, where she also studied French and minored in classical languages.