While Byblos, Sidon and Tyre received most of the attention in the early days of the Phoenicians, other cities rose to prominence among these people as time went on. Those cities included Beirut, Arwad, Tripoli, Zahlé and Baalbek.
Chief among these was Beirut, which occupied a key location halfway between Byblos and Sidon. It gained great importance in Roman times, and has continued ever since to play a prominent role. Carrying on the Phoenician tradition, it was regarded as a major financial center in the Mediterranean area until the debilitating fighting of 1975-1990. Once called the Paris of the Middle East, it has gradually been regaining its full stature and today is the capital city of Lebanon.
In Beirut the rebuilding after those years of destruction is very much under way. Much of the city is fresh and new. Unfortunately, part of the picturesque old city has been replaced in the process. The good news from all this is that some ancient relics from the early days of Beirut have been unearthed in the downtown area and are likely now to be preserved.
The founding of Beirut and its early days are experienced in colorful detail in Chapter 9 of the book Phoenicians Lebanon’s Epic Heritage, along with maps showing the original settlement.
About 86 miles north of Beirut, the island-city of Arwad also rose to prominence early in Phoenician history. It served as one of their major shipping ports. After the Phoenician golden years, however, that commerce shifted from the island to the coast during the Roman era. The nearest small town on the coastline was called Antaradus then, and is today known as Tartous, the second-largest seaport in Syria.
The island of Arwad, meanwhile, has become a quiet fishing port and vacation spot. But the air of its past glory is still there. A Phoenician wall is visible and other traces of the ancient empire must be there as well. Permits for archaeological expeditions are apparently hard to obtain, but hopefully one day the island will be explored again, giving us another view into the history of these times.
Tripoli, Zahlé and Baalbek
Tripoli was a small outpost until three other Phoenician cities contributed people and resources to create this bustling city located between Byblos and Arwad. It has grown to become the second-largest of Lebanon’s cities, after Beirut.
The town of Zahlé in the Bekaa Valley is situated on the route from Beirut to Damascus, making it a significant location for trade in this area. It is also renowned for its many and varied restaurants and production of wines.
Farther north in the Bekaa Valley is Baalbek, famous for its huge Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter — much of which is still standing. A tradition has developed there of hosting music festivals, which have become very popular and draw top performers from around the world.
If you would like to experience more of the Phoenician world than you found in this article, the book Phoenicians: Lebanon’s Epic Heritage is recommended. It is deeply researched but also a highly readable exploration.
Going beyond the few traditionally-cited facts, this authoritative work also draws from interviews with leading archaeologists and historians on-site in the lands and islands where the Phoenicians lived and left clues regarding their secretive society.
You can take a look inside this book. See the first pages here.