It is a secluded site situated in a green area in the middle of "Bustan esh-Sheikh". It includes the remains of Eshmun Temple, which is the most important Phoenician site in Lebanon. The building is a religious complex named after the healing god, Eshmun. It dates back to the end of the 8th century B.C. Alterations and additions were made in the following centuries.
How Do We Get There?
The temple lies at the north-east entrance of Sidon, on the left bank of the Awwali River, after the first round up near el Hariri Mosque on the way to Beirut, then passing through a narrow road in front of the café houses that are spread along the Awwali River.
According to the legend, Eshmun was a young man from Beirut who loved hunting. One day Astarte saw him and fell in love with him. To escape from her, he committed suicide. Astarte brought him to life in the form of a god. It is said that the village of Qabr Shmun, near Beirut, still preserves the memory of this god through his tomb. He has been known as the god of healing. By his death and resurrection, he represents the role of a fertility god, like the plants that die and are reborn each year.
The Greeks and the Romans identified him with Asclepius (or Asklepios), the Greek-Roman god of medicine whose symbol is the snake, the sign of the medical profession that is now used. The modern caduceus, a staff entwined with two serpents is derived from that symbol. The caduceus has been found in a gold plaque near the temple of Eshmun. It represents the Health goddess "Hygeia", and beside her is the god Eshmun holding in his right hand a staff around which a serpent is entwined. And in Beirut, there is a coin dating to the Roman period showing Eshmun standing between two serpents. The site must have been chosen to be near a water source to carry out the healing rituals. Since the custom was to offer statues to the god, bearing the names of those who came for healing, statues of children were discovered in the temple, indicating that Eshmun was specialized as a pediatrician.
During the Persian era (between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C.), Sidon was a Phoenician city that was noted for the opulence of its kings, the advanced culture of its intelligentsia and the high quality of its industry. The Persian kings regarded the kings of Sidon highly and granted them many rewards in order to attract the Sidonian fleet to their side during their wars against the Egyptians and the Greeks. At that time, Eshmun'nazar II, the son of Tabnit I acceded to the throne. The inscriptions on his sarcophagus (found in 1858, and today it is in the Louvre Museum), indicate that he and his mother, Amashtarte, built temples for the gods of Sidon, among which was one for the god Eshmun, at the water-source Ydlal near the cistern.
The temple of Eshmun was built by Eshmun'nazar II (in the middle of the 4th century B.C.), but it was partially destroyed and some of its parts remained, such as the chapels and pools. The site had been attended till the end of the 3rd century A.D.
The temple of Eshmun had been used as a quarry for centuries. Emir Fakhr-al-Din II used its blocks to build a bridge over the Awwali River. Today nothing is left except its foundations. In 1900, an Ottoman expedition headed by Mekridi Bey, the keeper of the Istanbul Museum, discovered Phoenician inscriptions in the temple. After 20 years, between 1925 and 1926, excavations near the river uncovered a mosaic from the Roman period and marble statues from the Hellenistic period, representing children. An inscription in Phoenician letters bearing the name of Eshmun was discovered too. A few kilometers from the site, inscriptions bearing the name of the king Bodashtart were discovered; they were incised on the occasion of the completion of an important canal system. After the government owned this site in the 1940s, excavations were resumed in 1963, uncovering marble statues of boys carrying votive offerings (at present they are displayed in the National Museum in Beirut).
A Visit to Eshmoun
At the entrance left side, there are the foundations of a Byzantine period basilica that represents the glorious epoch of Eshmun. A wide courtyard is seen along the Roman colonnaded road (nothing remained except its foundations). This courtyard still includes the remains of mosaics that depict the four seasons. North of the site, the remains of the residential area are seen.
During the Roman and early Christian eras (64 B.C. to 330 A.D.), the site of the Temple of Eshmun and its miraculous waters attracted pilgrims because it was a holy place that contained basins for ablution and a nymphaeum. To the right side, there are mosaics and sculptures that depict nymphs, each decorated with a niche.
The most important ruin at Eshmun site is between the nymphaeum and the temple complex, where there is a Roman stairway covered with mosaics, leading to a podium that allows for an overall view. The oldest section is the remaining part of pyramid-shaped foundations where a short flight of stairs and a wall can be seen, dating back to the 6th century B.C. That was the time when the Phoenician city states were under the political and cultural influence of Babylon.
At the right side of the temple lays the huge podium (around 60m ´ 45m). It was built by the king Eshmunazar II when Sidon was under the influence of the Achaemenids (Hakhâmanišiya) in the 5th century B.C. The King Bodashtart enlarged this podium, as the inscriptions on the slabs of the massive walls of the temple show.
To this site, another temple was added at the end of the 3rd century B.C. you can still see part of a frieze that represents a religious scene, a hunting scene and children playing. Near the northwest corner of the temple there are the ruins of a sanctuary of Astarte (Venus) dating back to the Hellenistic period. Inside it, there is a small area whose measures are 11 ´ 10 meters. It includes a throne standing on a single block of stone. This throne seems to be Astarte's. Beside the throne there are two sphinxes sculpted in the Egyptian style. At the northern side of Astarte's sanctuary, there is a small mosaic room guarded by a now headless sphinx that was added later. An inscription dates this section to 335 A.D. To the left side of the pool, near Astarte's throne, there is a long wall with reliefs of 22 meters long representing drunken revelry and someone who is attempting to seize a plumed rooster. It was a common practice among the Greeks to sacrifice cocks.
At the southeastern side, there is a water canal system through which the healing waters were channeled from the water source to the sacred basins for ritual ablution.
The site opens daily from 7:30 a.m. to sunset.
It is an important center for pilgrimage, situated at a hill of 200 m high. It is overlooking Sidon city.
Archeological works indicate that Maghdouché has been inhabited since ancient times. Its early inhabitants used to live in caves; the widest of which was the cave of Saydet el Mantara. Its earliest inhabitants were the Canaanites, the Ghassanids, around 500 A.D., and Arabs from Yemen who ruled Syria, Mount Lebanon and Palestine. In the 17th century, under the influence of Emir Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani II, the town developed under the superintendence of Ephtimos el-Saifi, bishop of Sidon and Tyre (1683), who came from Houran, accompanied by a group of people searching for a residence.
Saydet el Mantara or Our Lady of Waiting
It was the custom that Jewish women were prohibited to pass by the villages of pagans, but the Virgin Mary and women saints used to wait for Jesus Christ in that spot, while he was preaching in Sidon (Saida).
The gospels testify that Jesus visited the area of Tyre and Sidon, and did miracles there (Mathew, 15, 21 – 28 and Mark, 7, 24 – 31…). Historians mention His visit to Maghdouché . They also said that St. Helen asked her son the Roman Emperor the Great Constantine I, to erect a statue in the area in the name of the Virgin in 324 A.D.
The present tower is 40 meters high, inaugurated by the archbishop Bacillus Khoury. On the top of the Tower, there is a bronze statue of the Virgin carrying Christ the Enfant. In the heart of the tower, there is a small church with a mural representing the cave and Christ in Sidon healing the Canaanite girl. Traditionally, it is said that St. Helen offered the shrine a holy icon which could be one of the four ones that Luke mentioned.
The cave was transformed into a church 15 meters long and 7 meters wide. It represents the place in which the Virgin waited for her son, Jesus Christ. The church has a beautiful door with three vaults topped by the cross built by Jack Abella (the consul of Great Britain in Sidon in 1868) after he was miraculously healed from a stroke.
Due to the massacres that took place in the 8th century, the villagers hid the Cave, filling it with earth. In the 17th century, a shepherd discovered the buried cave by chance as he was trying to pull up a goat that had fallen down in a deep hole; he saw an altar and an icon of the Virgin made of wood.
The Road of the Holy Shrines
In this site, there are 12 obelisks in the open air sculpted in the rocks, depicting the events mentioned in the Bible, which took place on the holy land of Lebanon. An immense Basilica was erected, visited by the believers especially in the month dedicated to Virgin Mary (May) and on the birthday of the Virgin (8 September) when, besides praying, folkloric festivals along with singing, dancing, tolling bells, horse racing and track and field are held.
Saydet Church (Church of Virgin Mary)
was built 100 years ago according to the Crusade style, and was renovated in 1994. At the northern side of the hill, the ruins of a crusade palace are seen. It looks as if it is the guardian of the area.
Maghdouché is well-known for planting oranges and collecting their flowers to make orange-flower water that is used in alleviating pain and in making sweets and candies.
Jizzine (also Jezzine)
In a rocky environment abound with rocks eroded by the passage of time due to earthquakes and natural factors, Jizzine lays surrounded with mounds, highlands below Toumat Niha. It is famous for having a unique beautiful natural environment, fascinating natural scenes, and a moderate climate in summer freshened by its water springs. It is the center of the province of Jizzine. It is a strategic geographic location, connected with the districts of el Shouf, Wadi el Taym, el Bekaa, Marjeyoun, el-Nabatiyeh and Jabal Aamel. The best word that describes Jizzine is "traditional" for its old red-bricked houses, its ancient Souk (market) where the products of the area are exhibited, and for its traditional festivals that are held in summer.
How to Reach It?
You drive on the main road to Sidon (32km) eastward toward Hilalieh, Majdelyoun and Kfarfalous. Ten kilometers before reaching Jizzine, there is a wonderful pine forest. A public means of transportation can be used from Sidon starting from el Nejmeh Square. Jizzine had been the center of attraction for travelers and scholars such as Al Idrissi, Lucas, Father Lamens, Lady Ester Stanhopp and Father Godar. The area has been an arena of conflicts and wars with the surrounding districts. Jizzine was inhabited since ancient times and Phoenician, Roman, as well as Byzantine ruins have been discovered in it, among which is a Phoenician statue for "the god of Jizzine" (today in the Louvre Museum). Jizzine along with el Shouf comprised a strong bastion for the reign of Julian de Sajet during the Crusade period. When his debts accumulated, he sold his emirate to a Germanic Teutonic community.
In the Mamluk era, a Shiite doctrinal school flourished. Jizzine also prospered in the Ottoman and Mutasarifiyya periods as it played a key role politically, administratively, and socially.
In Jizzine there are two sections: the Old Section (the village) and the Commercial Section.
The Old Section: It is a narrow road with traditional houses and old shops. A rivulet springing from a natural grotto zigzags in the alleys before it flows into the valley. In this part of Jizzine, there had been an old mill that ceased to exist a few years ago.
The Commercial Section: is at the lower part of the town. It includes an ancient Souk (market) that abounds with factories, craftworks, boutiques, and traditional old houses with their beautiful arches and red roofs. There are several long flights of stairs that are seen in all the parts of this section.
Major Attractions in Jezzine
At the entrance of Jizzine, there is "Saydet Jizzine" or "Saydet el-Maabour" (Our Lady of Jizzine) shrine; inside it lays the statue of the Virgin. In 1898, an important passageway connecting Jizzine with the coastal cities and Sidon was built. In 1955, the Virgin Statue was ascended during religions celebrations that occur on August 15th,, the day of the Virgin's Ascension. On this occasion, the celebrators go around the town till they reach the Virgin's Statue amidst prayers and lit candles.
The town overlooks a cliff of 40 meters high. At its sides, there are café houses and restaurants overlooking a wonderful landscape of Wadi Jizzine which in turn overlooks green fields. In the center of the town there is the Municipal Palace, which was built according to the Ottoman style in 1898 during the reign of Sultan Abd el Hamid and the "Qaim Maqam" of the district, Saleem Bey Aammoun, at the expense of the municipality.
In Jizzine, there are churches that were built more than 100 years ago. They are famous for their huge stony vaults.
On the outskirts of the town you can see St. Maroun Church, which dates back to the 18th century. It was partially destroyed in 1759, and then repaired several times. It is distinguished for its vastness and elevated vaults. Believers reach the church via an old flight of stairs from the Old Section of the town.
Saydet el-Yanbou' Church (built in 1796): It includes a valuable icon of the Virgin and her Baby, Jesus (painted by the Italian artist "Piarotti"). It is placed on a vaulted marble altar. There are huge columns that support the walls lined with argillaceous and leaden (dull gray) stones.
St. Anthony Church (built in the 19th century): it has a central chapel beside which there are two other chapels. It includes 14 lit niches that represent the stages of the Cross Pathway, as well as engravings in the walls which surround the altar.
St. Joseph Church (built in 1860): its architecture and vaults are beautiful.
It has no central columns, and is divided into two parts: The first (for men) is higher than the other part (for women).
South of Jizzine lays Sirhal Palace, which is a huge building whose architecture is untraditional and a little bit strange. It was built by Dr. Farid Sirhal. The Palace includes spacious rooms topped with perforated glass colored vaults, as well as shapes of engraved water-springs. It looks imposing to the onlookers passing through the Ain Majdalin road. It is not open for visitors.
Handicrafts in Jezzine:
Jizzine is famous for manufacturing knives shaped like birds, with ivory handles. What is produced is astounding, reflecting the refined and perfectionist touch of the Lebanese artisan art. It is a traditional technique which has been passed on from one generation to another for 200 years. The government in Lebanon offers this fine model of the Lebanese craftsmanship to the heads of other countries as a token of friendship.