Byblos, Lebanon

Byblos, 35 km (23 miles) north of the capital Beirut, is the source of the first Phoenician letters that gave us our alphabet, one of the top contenders for the "oldest continuously inhabited city" in the World, and a UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1984. According to Phoenician tradition, the God EI (or Elion) founded it as a city of great antiquity. Although its beginnings are lost in time, modern scholars say the site of "Byblos" dates back at least 7000 years.

Ironically, the city's early inhabitants would not have recognized the words "Byblos" and "Phoenicia". For several thousand years it was called "Gubla" and later "Gebal", while the term "Canaan" was applied to the coast in general. It was the Greeks, some time after 1200 BC, who gave us the name "Phoenicia", referring to the coastal area. They called the city "Byblos" (papyrus in Greek), because this commercial center was important in the papyrus trade.

Byblos today is a thriving modern town with an ancient heart and 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, the church, the old market area and a beautiful sandy beach.

For a real taste of Byblos, stroll through the streets and byways. This part of the town is a collection of old walls (some medieval) overlapping properties and intriguing half-ruins. After visiting the archeological site, a quick and entertaining introduction to Lebanon's past can be found at three main museums. The Wax Museum near the castle illustrates scenes from the history and rural life of the country. The Fossil Museum located in an alley of the main souk contains an interesting collection of shark, eel, shrimp and other fossils. The Archeological Site Museum, located at the entrance of the citadel of Byblos, was inaugurated in 2002. The museum displays objects representative of practices and traditions throughout the history of Byblos.