Anjar Historical Castle

The Umayyad Ruins

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 Anjar when he was defeated by his cousin Marwan II in a battle two kilometers form the city.

Just after Lebanon gained independence in 1943, the country's General Directorate of Antiquities began to investigate a strip of land in the Bekaa valley sandwiched between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains some 58 kilometers east of Beirut.  This was Anjar, then a stretch of blend bareness with parched shrubbery and stagnant swamps that covered the vast area of these archaeological remains.

The site at first seemed painfully modest, especially when compared with the rest of Lebanon's archaeological wonders

What attracted the antiquities experts to Anjar was not such the ruins themselves as the information they held.  Beneath the impersonal grayness of Anjar, the experts suggested, lay the vestiges of the eighth century Umayyad dynasty that ruled from Damascus and held sway over an empire.    That idea was particularly interesting because Lebanon, that unique crossroads of the ages, boasted ample archaeological evidence of almost all stages of Arab history with the exception of the Umayyad.  Early in the excavation, engineers drained the swamps.  Stands of evergreen cypresses and eucalyptus trees were planted and flourish today, giving these stately ruins a park-like setting.  To date, almost the entire site has been excavated and some monuments have been restored.  Among the chief structures are the Palace I and the Mosque in the south-east quarter, the residential area in the southwest, the Palace II in the northwest and the Palace III and public bath in the northeast.

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.  One of them, dated 123 of the Hegira (741 A.D.), is located in the western wall between the fourth and the fifth towers from the southwest.

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 (in 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 Anjar 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. One of the tetrapylons has been reconstructed with its full quota of four columns. Note the Greek inscriptions at the bases and the Corinthian capitals with their characteristic carved acanthus leaves - delightful to look at, but definitely not original to the Umayyads.

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 Umayyads 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 Anjar 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.

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