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Panoramic Views > Bekaa > Zahle > Aanjar

Aanjar: An Umayyad site of Lebanon:

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 Mountains.

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 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 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 Today:

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

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