|An Umayyad site
58 kilometers from Beirut, is completely different from any
other archaeological experience you'll have in Lebanon. At
other historical sites in the country, different epochs and
civilizations are superimposed one on top of the other.
Aanjar is exclusively one period, the Umayyad.
Lebanon's other sites were founded
millennia ago, but Aanjar is a relative new-comer, going back
to the early 8th century A.D. Unlike Tyre and Byblos, which
claim continuous habitation since the day they were founded,
Aanjar flourished for only a few decades.
Other than a small Umayyad mosque in
Baalbeck, we have few other remnants from this important
period of Arab History.
Aanjar also stands
unique as the only historic example of an inland
commercial center. The city benefited from its strategic
position on intersecting trade routes leading to
Damascus, Homs, Baalbeck and the south. This almost
perfect quadrilateral of ruins lies in the midst of the
richest agricultural land in Lebanon. It is only a short
distance from gushing springs and one of the important
sources of the Litani River. Today's name, Aanjar, comes
from the Arabic Ain Gerrha, "the source of Gerrha",
view of the site of Aanjar
an ancient city founded in this area during Hellenistic
times. Aanjar has a special beauty. The city's slender
columns and fragile arches stand in contrast to
the massive bulk of the nearby Anti-Lebanon
mountains--an eerie background for Aanjar extensive
ruins and the memories of its short but energetic moment
a monumental entrance
with four gates
Aanjar's Masters, The Umayyads
Umayyads, the first hereditary dynasty of Islam, ruled
from Damascus in the first century after the Prophet
Mohammed, from 660 to 750 A.D.
They are credited with the great Arab conquests that
created an Islamic empire stretching from the Indus
Valley to southern France.
Skilled in administration and
planning, their empire prospered for a 100 years. Defeat
befell them when the Abbasids--their rivals and their
successors--took advantage of the Umayyad's increasing
Some chronicles and literary documents inform us that it
was Walid I, son of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who
built the city--probably between 705
and 715 A.D.
Walid's son Ibrahim lost Aanjar when
he was defeated by his cousin Marwan II in a battle two
kilometers form the city.
after Lebanon gained independence in 1943, the country's
General Directorate of Antiquities began to investigate
a strip of land in the Beqaa valley sandwiched between
the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains some 58
kilometers east of Beirut. This was Aanjar, then a
stretch of blend bareness with parched shrubbery and
stagnant swamps that covered the vast area of these
The site at first seemed painfully
modest, especially when compared with the rest of
Lebanon's archaeological wonders. What attracted the
antiquities experts to Aanjar was not such the ruins
themselves as the information they held. Beneath the
impersonal grayness of Aanjar, the experts suggested,
lay the vestiges of the eighth century Umayyad dynasty
that ruled from Damascus and held sway over an empire.
That idea was particularly interesting because
Lebanon--that unique crossroads of the ages--boasted
ample archaeological evidence of almost all stages of
Arab history with the exception of the Umayyad.
Early in the excavation engineers drained the swamps.
Stands of evergreen cypresses and eucalyptus trees were
planted and flourish
view of the site
giving these stately ruins a park-like setting. To date,
almost the entire site has been excavated and some
monuments have been restored. Among the chief structures
are the Palace I and the Mosque in the south-east
quarter, the residential area in the southwest, the
Palace II in the northwest and the Palace III and public
in the northeast.
I S I T I N G T H E S I T E
Maximus lined with shops
To sense the vastness
of the city, drive around the outside of the fortified
enclosures before entering the 114,000 square-meter
site. The north-south walls run 370 meters and the
east-west sides extend 310 meters. The walls are two
meters thick and built from a core of mud and rubble
with an exterior facing facing of sizable blocks and an
interior facing of smaller layers of blocks. Against the
interior of the enclosures are three stairways built on
each side. They gave access to the top of the walls
where guards circulated and protected the town. Each
imposing gate, and towers (40 in all) are sited on each
stretch of wall. The Umayyad's hundred-year history is steeped
in war and conquest. Apparently their rulers felt that these
wall and tower defenses were a necessary feature of their
Nearly 60 inscriptions and graffiti from Umayyad times are
scattered on the city's surrounding walls. One of them, dated
123 of the Hegira (741 A.D.), is located in the western wall
between the fourth and the fifth tower from the southwest.
Today visitors enter through the northern
gate of the site but as the main points of interest are at the
southern half of the city, it's better to walk up the main
street to the
far end of the site. You
are walking along the 20-meter-wide Cardo Maximus (a Latin
meaning a major street running north and south) which is
flanked by shops, some of which have been reconstructed.
At the half-way point
of this commercial street a second major street called
Decumanus Maximus (running east to west) cuts across it
at right angles. It is also flanked by shops. In all,
600 shops have been uncovered, giving Aanjar the right
to call itself a major Umayyad strip mall.
The masonry work, of Byzantine origin, consists of
courses of cut stone alternating with courses of brick.
This technique, credited to the Byzantines reduced the
effects of earthquakes.
The tidy division of the site into four quarters is
based on earlier Roman city planning. At the city's
crossroads you'll have your first hint that the Umayyads
were great recyclers. Tetrapylons mark the four corners
of the intersection.
This configuration, called a tetrastyle is
of Roman architecture. One of the tetrapylons has been
reconstructed with its full quota of four columns. Note
the Greek inscriptions at the bases and the Corinthian
capitals with their characteristic carved acanthus
leaves-delightful to look at but definitely not original
to the Umayyads.
A city with 600 shops and an
overwhelming concern for security must have required a
fair number of people. Keeping this in mind,
archaeologists looked for remains of an extensive
residential area and found it just beyond the tetrastyle
to the southwest. However, these residential quarters
received the least attention from archaeologists and
need further excavation.
Along both sides of the streets
you'll see evenly spaced column bases and mostly fallen
columns that were once part of an arcade that ran the
length of the street.
Enough of these have been reconstructed to allow your
imagination to finish the job.
The columns of the arcade are by no means homogeneous;
they differ in type and size and are crowned by varying
capitals. Most of them are Byzantine, more indication
that the Umayyads helped themselves to Byzantine and
other ruins scattered around the area.
of the Great Palace
of the Great Palace
On your way to the
arcaded palace ahead, notice the numerous slabs of stone
that cover the top of what was the city's drainage and
sewage system. These manholes are convincing evidence of
the city's well-planned infrastructure.
The great or main palace itself was the first landmark
to emerge in 1949 when Aanjar was discovered. One wall
and several arcades of the southern half of the palace
have been reconstructed. As you stand in the
40-square-meter open courtyard, it is easy to picture
the palace towering around you all four sides. Just to
the north of the palace are the sparse remains of a
mosque measuring 45x32 meters. The mosque had two public
entrances and a private one for the caliph.
If you enjoy a good game of archaeological hide and
seek, the second palace is the place for you. It is
decorated with much finer and more intricate engravings,
rich in motifs borrowed from the Greco-Roman tradition.
Very little reconstruction has been done to this palace
so its floors and grounds are in their natural state.
With patience you will
stone carvings of delightful owls, eagles, seashells and the
famous acanthus leaves.
More evidence of the Umayyad dependence on the architectural
traditions of other cultures appears some 20 meters north of
this second palace. These Umayyad baths contain the three
classical sections of the Roman bath: the vestiary where
patrons changed clothing before their bath and rested
afterwards, and three rooms for cold, warm and hot water. The
size of the vestiary indicates the bath was more than a source
of phisical well-being but also a center of social
interaction. A second, smaller, bath or similar design is
marked on the map.
is open daily. Close to the ruins of Aanjar are a number of
restaurants which offer fresh trout plus a full array of
Lebanese and Armenian dishes. Some of the restaurants are
literally built over the trout ponds. Aanjar has no hotels but
lodging can be found in Chtaura 15 kilometers away.
If you have time
Ain Gerrha. Aanjar's
major spring is located 3 kilometers northeast of the ruins.
Majdal Aanjar. A Roman period temple sits on a hilltop
overlooking this village, which is one kilometer from Aanjar.
The Mausoleum of El-Wali Zawur is the burial spot of a
religious personage from medieval times. Until the early 1980s
fertility rites were held here.
Kfar Zabad. Roman temple ruins and a cave with
stalactites and stalagmites.
Special equipment needed for the cave.