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Panoramic Views > North > Al Batroun > Phoenician Wall & Roman Theatre

Batroun: The Phoenician wall and the Roman Theatre

It is difficult for us in only a few pages to retrace the history of a city thousands of years old, because of the many obstacles standing in our way. For one thing, there has never been any general scientific archaeological excavation carried out; because of the lack of any early written documents, this city has always been largely neglected although it is one of the most ancient prehistoric sites in Lebanon.

The site and name of Batroun

Batroun is a coastal town of North Lebanon lying 50 km. north of Beirut and 30 km. south of Tripoli. The Old City extends round a circular bay with its characteristic port of classic form; there is a sheltered roadstead to the north of the town and another to the south, close to which is the “Pool of the King’s Daughter” (Birket Bint el-Malak), the shipbuilding yard and the “Throne of the Prince” (Maqaad el-Mir). It is thought that it is this Maqaad el-Mir that gave its name to the town (J.T. Merchak), as bet trouna signifies “the place of the chief” or “locality of the prince” (P.P. Hobeika and Armalé). Also, Batroun may have taken its name from the structure of its relief: bitron, from the Semitic root b-t-r, means to divide, to sunder, to cut. From the same root there is also a term derived which designates a rock or high cliff, giving the Phoenician name b-t-r = batara (Dr. Anis Freyha). After the conquest of Alexander the Great, the Greeks called it Botrys, signifying bunch of grapes, seemingly because of the vineyards which covered its own soil and that of the surrounding region.
It kept this name under the Seleucid kings and under the Romans and Byzantines who came after. Batroun remained famous for its wines till the time of the Ottoman conquest. The Arabs called the town Bathroun. The Crusaders gave it the status of a seignory (feudal fief) under the Count of Tripoli and called it Le Boutron.

Batroun’s times of prosperity

Prehistory (500,000 years ago to 3,300 B.C.)

Prehistoric man in and around Batroun has left us a rich store of artifacts made occasionally in bone but more often in flint, basalt or obsidian. He lived as a hunter-gatherer nomad during Paleolithic times but became sedentary during the Neolithic period. He left us various kinds of tools such as chipped pebbles, bifaces, hand axes, scrapers and chisels.

Historical times

a- The Phoenician Period (3,300 B.C. to 64 B.C.)

It was during this time that the name Batroun first appeared in history, for example in the letters of Tal el Amarna, dating from the first half of the 14th century before Christ. A votive statuette of about 2,000 B.C. gives us an idea of the antiquity of the city. From the sea bottom around Batroun, fishermen sometimes bring up pieces of the pottery in which the Phoenicians used to carry their food products.
Several sarcophagi have been exhumed from the Phoenician cemetery situated south of the town. The two docks of Batroun Port are separated by the Phoenician wall 225 m. long. The 9th century B.C. Phoenician citadel built by Ittobaal king of Tyre (approx. 887-856 B.C.) as a fortification to impede the advance of the Assyrian armies is the oldest surviving vestige of a building in the town.

b- The Roman-Byzantine Period (64 B.C. to approx. 636 A.D.)

About the year 47 B.C. Julius Caesar gave the people of Batroun the right of Roman citizenship and then after 31 B.C. Augustus gave the town the right to strike its own coinage. The town enjoyed this privilege up to the middle of the third century A.D.. The Roman theatre situated to the east of the Phoenician town was the local artistic and cultural centre. In 1977 a marble statue of a boy mounted on a dolphin and a simple mosaic were discovered.

c- The Crusader Period (1104-1289 A.D.)

After being made a seignory fief of the Count of Tripoli, Batroun was governed by the Agout family from Provence in Southern France and after their extinction by Plebanus, a merchant from Pisa. This fief was called the Seignory of the Holy Mountain. The Crusaders used the citadel (largely destroyed by an earthquake on 9th July, 551 A.D.) as the seat of government for the dependency. At Koubba they built St. Saviour’s Church (middle of the 12th century) and also St. James’s Church, of which only a part of the wall and traces of the apse remain.

d- The Mutassarrifiate (1861-1918)

This is the best-known period in the history of Batroun. Batroun was a small port and centre of government for the caza (sub-prefecture) of the same name. Although the coast line of this district did not extend far, only from Selaata to Madfoun, the hinterland was extensive, covering the localities of Douma, Besheyaleh, Tannourine, Qnet, Hadath el-Joubbeh, Hasroun, Bsharry, Ehden, Zgharta and Hermel and its surroundings. The prosperity of Batroun at this time had various reasons, religious, cultural, artistic, architectural and economic. As local capital with its mills, olive-presses, shops, hostelries and schools, it attracted a mixed population. The prosperity of the town was reflected in the wealth of its population, as shown by the rich villas decorated with painted murals, the Greek Orthodox church of Saint George and also the church of Our Lady of the Square and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, both Maronite.

During this time Batroun and its surroundings prospered from the culture of mulberry trees, whose leaves provided the staple food of silkworms (19,200kg. of cocoons in 1906), olive trees (7,500 kg. of olive oil in 1906), vines, almond trees, fig trees, wheat, barley, maize and tobacco. The sea made a considerable contribution to the diet of the people of Batroun. Industry was generally on the artisan level as in the case of the treating of tobacco, the production of salt, the cleaning of sponges and the unravelling of the silkworm cocoons.

Batroun also played an important cultural role, being the birthplace of a certain number of poets and writers and having a printing-press which produced newspapers, reviews and books.

Its archaeological remains are enough to provide a hundred years’ work for specialists in research, archaeological excavation, restoration, urbanism and other branches of study.

Joseph T. MERCHAK - CAPES, Geography
Archéologie et Patrimoine – publication of the General Directorate of Antiquities in cooperation with UNESCO, n° 7, May, 1997.
(Text translated from the French by K.J. Mortimer)

- The Phoenician wall: >> View Movie << (2002-09-01)
- The Roman Theatre: >> View Movie << (2002-09-01)
- The City by night, Christmas decoration: >> View Movie << (2015-01-01)


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