I fell a little bit in love with Byblos Old Town. But the ruins of the ancient city — some of them dating back six or seven thousand years — are stunning. Especially when the flowers are out.
Five thousand years ago, Byblos was already a trading hub, exporting the cedars of Lebanon that built the pharaoh Khufu’s boat and King Solomon’s temple, and receiving Egyptian gold, linen and papyrus in exchange.
Like everywhere in the Middle East, Byblos has been conquered and rebuilt a million times.
Waves of invaders swept in from Asia and Europe over the millennia: Canaanites, Hyksos, Hittites, Egyptians, Sea Peoples, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans…
The 80-foot ramparts that run up to the castle the Crusaders built, when Western European kinglets briefly occupied and held this strip of coastline, date back to the time of the Phoenicians, who created tiny kingdoms all along the North African coast 5000 years ago or so, trading in dye and cedar wood.
Looking through the tranquil gate of the castle towards the port, it’s hard to imagine that so much violence ever came through here, or the myth and magic that once resided here. All that’s left of the spring where the Egyptian witch goddess Isis wept for her dead brother-husband Osiris is a dry, rocky crater.
This nineteenth century Ottoman house sits amid the ruins of a neolithic village, close to the remnants of a Phoenician temple, surrounded by a meadow of flowers.
Everything seems to grow here in spring: oleanders, bougainvillea, foxgloves, poppies, tiny bright blue flowers like forget-me-nots, and yes, both cypresses and cedars too.
I love the way flowers just keep on growing, over millennia of human endeavour, all buried and gone.
There were flowers billions of years before there were humans, and there will be flowers for billions of years after we’re gone. For them, 7000 years is just the blink of an eye…