Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lebanon Excursion: Byblos

Visiting Byblos is like peeling an onion - you get layers upon layers. According to guides, Byblos is one of the oldest continuous inhabited cities in the world. Archaeologists have uncovered relics of Stone Age inhabitants living 7,000 years ago. In the 3rd millennuim BC, the city was a powerful Phoenician port (inventors of the alphabet?). The city was assimilated into the Roman empire. During the crusades, Byblos became one of the Christian coastal strongholds* to stand against the Islamic troops. After the successful expulsion of the crusaders, the Arab conquerers also contributed their share to the history of Byblos. During World War 1, a Turkish detachment was said to be occupying the crusader stronghold (which is still standing today). Today it is one picturesque town to visit and reminisce the past.

A Crusader guard tower still overlooks the dock although the archers are long dead and gone.

The main attraction of Byblos - The castle of the Knights of the Cross. Build in 1103 fundamentally for the pratical purpose of defence, the stronghold doesn't score points in aesthetic value. That it is still standing today after withstanding centuries of warfare and natural calamities proves indeed that it served its purpose.

Roman columns are inserted within the wall base to stregthen the foundation of the castle. Some of the building stone bricks of the walls were recycled from the Roman ruins. Perhaps it was Roman architecture that helped to preserve the castle. Hmmm...

Ruins of Roman street theatre featuring female gladiator! "Gladiator! We salute you!"
The Church of St. John the Baptist build by the Crusaders. It was rebuild several times after the crusades due to damage.

*Crusaders were said to have occupied and fortified the Lebanese coastal regions from Tripoli, Byblos, Beirut, Sidon (North to South) perhaps to form a line of defence from Europe to Jerusalem. They were more successful at holding the coast where they are more easily resupplied by ships from Italy.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lebanon Excursion: Harissa, Lady of Lebanon

On the heights (more than 600 m) an immense immaculate statue overlooks the bay of Jounieh. Erected at the end of the 19th Century, the statue of the Virgin dominates a sanctuary (a chapel in the pedestal). A panoramic view is guaranteed at the top of the statue.

Lady of Lebanon - Statue of Virgin Mary
At the base of the statue is a curled staircase that leads to a spectacular view of the city of Jounieh.Within the base of the statue houses a chapel

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lebanon Excursion: Jeita Grotto

The Jeita Grotto is an impressive limestone cavern complex located 18 km North of Beirut. It consists of an upper grotto and a lower grotto. Discovered in 1958, the upper grotto, which functioned as a store for arnament during the civil war, can be explored on foot at length. The lower grotto was discovered in the 19th century by accident. It is crossed by an underground river and a boat ride is necessary to explore the 500 m that is open to the public out of the 6,200 m discovered.

Within these grottoes are the most magnificient shapes of stalacites and stalagmites - splendid limestone formations sculpted by the magical hands of nature and time. Upon entering the grottoes, we were immersed in a Tolkien-ish mystical surreal realm so breath-taking and awesome that we can hardly believe it to be natural. Taking of photos within the grottoes are prohibited for the fear of ruining the natural beauty of the formations. However, thanks to the wonders of internet, there is an abundance of pictures available. Yet the craft of man pales in comparison with the work of nature, only seeing it in person can one really appreciates the true beauty of the grottoes!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Back In Action

I've lapsed in my blogging recently because of high work volume. Today is the first day after coming back from a long business trip in Algeria, I think it's time to get back into some blogging action.

I'll start tomorrow with the accounting of our Lebanon sigh-seeing trips we made when Xinyi came for a visit last December.