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Touring Lebanon - Traditional Anjar


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Touring Lebanon - Traditional Anjar
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Touring Lebanon - Traditional Anjar by Lebanon Traveler Magazine Issue 6 March - June 2013

Not only is Anjar the sole Umayyad site in Lebanon, the area is also known for its Armenian cultural influences and rich biodiversity

Located 58km from Beirut and just a short distance from the Litani River, Anjar, which was a safe zone for Armenian refugees who fled Turkey and the ''Great Calamity'' genocide in 1915, is now a pleasant and quiet destination for a relaxing weekend.

The Umayyad ruins Commissioned by Umayyad Caliph Al Walid in the early 8th C, the site prospered as a trading city due to its strategic location at the crossroads of the north-south and east-west trade routes.

The site's discovery was purely accidental. To their great surprise, in the late 1940's, archeologists hoping to uncover the ancient city of Chalcis from 1000 BC discovered a walled town with a Roman layout that dated from the first centuries of Islam. Though many Islamic sites around the world were well preserved, those from the Umayyad era seem to have been all but destroyed. Anjar was thus a pleasant discovery with great historical significance, especially since the Umayyad reign lasted a mere 50 years. It is understandable why the area quickly became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.

The city is 1,300 years old and has evidence of Greek, Roman and Byzantine architecture, mainly in the columns and capitals of the colonnades lining in the main streets. Walls extending 370m from north to south and 310m from east to west surround this 114,000m2 city. Umayyad inscriptions can be found throughout the enclosure. Two main colonnaded streets divide the city into four sections where around 600 shops once stood.

The main structures at the site are two palaces, a mosque and a public bath. The public bath is separated into three sections, a place to change, the bathing area consisting of chambers with cold, warm and hot water and a relaxation area. Make sure to see the faded but intact mosaics to the left of the bathing area entrance.

Anjar's most impressive construction is the great palace, located in the southwest quadrant of the settlement. In the little palace located north, you can explore Greek stone carvings. Also to the north, remains of a mosque are visible. One of the palace exits, facing the mosque's entrance, is thought to have been the caliph's private entrance. The two other entrances were for the public.

Aside from its unique historical significance and cultural aspects, Anjar is a perfect ecological environment where fauna and flora are well protected. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL), as a national partner for Bird Life International, has been active in the assessment and management of Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Key Biodiversity Areas of Lebanon. Through SPNL's scientific assessments, Anjar - Kfar Zabad Wetlands were announced as an IBA in 2005. The area is a major habitat for the globally endangered bird species, Syrian Serin. It is also a bottleneck for African Eurasian Water Birds.

SPNL has been working on the sustainable management of the wetlands, through the Human Integrated Management Approach (HIMA) since 2005. Accordingly, management plans for sustaining biodiversity and empowering livelihoods was developed for the site. Eco-tourism has been promoted as a means to empower local communities and highlight the esthetic, biodiversity and cultural values of this area. Several ecotourism facilities have developed in the HIMA including a visitor's center, picnic area, camp-site and natural hiking trails.

The Village Tour
This takes you into the Old Armenian Village of Anjar itself. An old map of the first eagle-shaped settlement shows the layout of the village with its municipality, houses and gardens, water points, church, shops, public garden and craftsmen.

The Archeological Site
Visitors will experience the history of the Umayyads through the Old World Heritage Umayyad City (after the village tour, the loop ends at the archeological site, crossing the souvenir shops street).

The Water Course
This tour includes a long hike from the Anjar and Chamsine Spring to the wetlands of the Anjar - Kfar Zabad HIMA. Hiking and biking tours are offered.

Make sure to reserve ahead of time by calling Dalia Jawhary, SPNL +961 1 344814

Where to eat

Shams Restaurant: A favorite in the area, the restaurant offers fresh fish in addition to the traditional mezze and grills. Make sure to ask for their patented potato balloons, which are a unique feast for the eyes and taste buds +961 8 620567

Furn Koch Anjar: Established in 1950, this small bakery continues to prepare its food the traditional way. Their specialty – the chanklish man2ouche! Koch Street (no contact information)

Where to sleep: Challalt Anjar Hotel - Fair prices, a decent restaurant and live entertainment daily on summer nights at the only hotel in the area - Challalt Anjar - the place to be! +961 8 620753

Getting there: From Zahle head towards the south or Syrian Border and follow the signs to Anjar. To get to the site, take the fork by the petrol station and the ''Welcome to Anjar'' sign. Drive about 2km from the highway to the site. Finally, you will see a Shams restaurant sign on your right, after which you should take the first left, and that will lead you to the site entrance.
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