Aanjar, 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.
Aanjar 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", the
name of 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
History, Aanjar's Masters, The Umayyads:
The 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 decadence. 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
from the city.
Visiting the site:
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 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 wall has an 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 architecture. Nearly 60 inscriptions
and graffiti from Umayyad times are scattered on the
city's surrounding walls.
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 tetra style is remarkably
reminiscent of Roman architecture.
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 tetra style 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
Unayyads helped themselves to Byzantine and other
ruins scattered around the area.
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
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 find 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 physical well-being
but also a center of social interaction. A second,
smaller, bath or similar design is marked on the map.
Aanjar 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.
Text: Elaine Larwood, Marilyn Raschka, Hassan
- Aanjar: >> View
Movie << (2001-04-01)
- Saint Paul Cathedral, Aanjar: >> View
Movie << (2016-03-15)