Our visit to Anjar and Baalbek was complicated because of the celebration of Lebanon’s independence. The President made a military parade almost in front of our hotel en Beirut. The Four Seasons Hotel Beirut had to intervene for us to convince a policeman to open his barricade to get our car out.
You can do this tour with a tour operator or you can go on your own if you rent a car. Keep in mind that the roads are in good condition, but they drive very poorly in Lebanon. In addition there are many military controls, but when they see that you are a tourist they let you pass without problems. We went first to Baalbek which is further away and then we went to Anjar.
Tourism in Anjar
The war with Syria has greatly affected tourism on both sites. The road in Syria that allowed its citizens to cross into Lebanon was closed. Tour operators can no longer tour the country, which has significantly reduced the number of tourists. In addition, its location in the Bekaa Valley near the border with Syria scares many international tourists. In this area there are many refugee camps.
Anjar is a mainly Armenian town that was designed by the French colonialists in the form of an eagle with its wings extended. It is famous for its freshwater ponds where you can fish trout and its fruit plantations.
The mix between Armenian and Lebanese cuisine has made that a destination for foodies. Many Lebanese go to eat during the weekend. If you want to stay in the area, there is only one hotel in Anjar. You can also choose between three hoteles en Chtaura which is 15 kilometers away.
If you are a nature lover you can visit Ain Gerrha, the great spring of Anjar. Kfar Zabad are ruins of a Roman temple with a cave that has stalactites and stalagmites. Majdal Anjar is another temple of the Roman era that is close to the ancient city of Anjar. The mausoleum of Al-Wali Zawur is a burial place for a religious character from the medieval era.
Anjar is the only Umayyad site in Lebanon
Let’s start with the most important: who are the Umayyads? The Umayyads were a Quraysh tribe descendants of Ibn Abd Shams Umayya. At first they unconditionally opposed the Islamic prophet Muhammad but eventually converted to Islam.
Anjar was founded by Caliph Walid ibn Abd Al-Malik between 705-715. Caliph is a person considered a religious successor of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and is a leader of the entire Muslim community.
Anjar comes from the Arabic term “ayn al-jaar” which means rock water: a reference to the flowing currents. This ancient city is located near the Litani River, 58 km from the capital of Beirut.
The location used to be very good, as it served to become a shopping center at the crossroads between Beirut and Damascus.
In contrast to the other historical cities such as Tire, Saida, Beirut and Byblos; Anjar’s era of glory did not last long. The reign of the Umayyads in the eighth century only lasted 100 years. The ancient city prospered for a very short time, between 20 and 30 years, under the command of the son Califa Ibrahim. In 744 the Abbasids conquered the city and it ended in ruins. The construction of the city was never completed.
An ancient city with Roman planning
Anjar’s great architectural scheme is made to be an almost perfect quadrilateral. It has perpendicular streets and alleys that cross in the center of the city. This division into fourth parts is based on planning principles of Roman cities. The city has inscriptions of dates that show that it was inhabited by the Greeks and Romans since 395.
In Anjar there were three large palaces, Roman-inspired public baths, a residential area, a mosque and a shopping center.
The mall was really great, with 600 stores that have been discovered. They are one after the other in two intersecting streets, including the main street 20 meters wide.
Tourists enter through the north gate, near the Roman baths that were decorated with beautiful mosaics that are still on the site. This area was designated to be able to evacuate dirty water efficiently.
The best attractions in the city are in the southern part. In the southeast is the Caliph Palace in the highest part of the city of Anjar. It is impressive to see how the double height columns have not fallen, despite the fact that the area has had several earthquakes.
The history of the Umayyads is full of war and conquests. For this reason they needed a lot of defense, so they built high walls around the city. There are also 40 towers spread around a rectangular area.
Anjar was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.