Aanjar is a fortified Umayyad city with a rectangular lay-out with two major main streets, crossing each other in the centre of the place. At the four ends of the main streets were fortified gates.
We entered the site by the north gate and walked along the Cardo Maximus, one of the mainstreets. The other mainstreet is called the Decumanus Maximus.
In 1995 we had no entrance to pay.
We were the only visitors together with a woman from New Zealand and a small group local women.
The Cardo Maximus and the Decumanus Maximus were flanked by hundreds of shops in the old days with wide arcades in front.
The columns of the arcades were all different in size and type and crowned with different capitals too, most looking byzantine.
600 shops are still uncovered.
At the crossing of the two mainstreets stands the Tetrapylon, reminiscent of roman arches of triumph.
It was nice that just a horseman was passing, when we were there.
The most striking and beautiful building in the Aanjar site you can find in the south east part, the great Umayyad palace, residence of the khalifs.
The great palace has an impressive structure. Around the quadrangular courtyard of 20 M lenght were high, graceful arches in a kind of Byzantine style.
The most striking of the remains of the Umayyad palace in Aanjar are the elegant tiers of arches, that betray a Byzantnie touch.
After the very Roman lay-out and outlook of Aanjar at first glance this palace was a nice surprise for us.
We enjoyed the fact, that we were walking there alone during our visit and had all the opportunity and time to discover the site on our own way.
The location of Aanjar in the Beeka Valley with the Lebanon and Chouf mountains at the background is wonderful.
Except the most striking structures like the Omayyad palace and the tetrastyle, we saw remains of another palace, more arcades, baths, shops, houses and the wall and gates around the site.
The site is open from 8 am till sunset.
The great palace is the most impressive building at Aaanjar. It was built by Walid I, the sixth Umayyad caliph, early in the eighth century. One of the walls is still largely intact as well as some of the columns and arches, so it is easy to envisage how beautiful it must have looked 1300 years ago.
A tetrapylon is an arrangement of four groups of four columns, marking the intersection of the two main roads, the cardo maximus and the decumanus, at the centre of classical cities. The one at Aanjar is actually quite similar to the one at Palmyra., but only one of the four sets of columns is still standing.
The main city baths are probably the first part of Aaanjar you will wnder around as they are just inside the main entrance, to the left, shaded by trees. They are very similar in style to Roman baths, having three main sections: a changing area, a bathing area and a sitting area. The floors were once completely covered with mosaics, but only two areas of these remain.
The main residential area, where the ordinary citizens of Aanjar lived, is to the right of the cardo maximus, as you walk in, on the opposite side to the palaces. As in most ancient cities I have visited, it is the most overgrown and neglected part of the site.
The layout of this Omayyad city is based on a Graeco-Roman plan, divided into four quarters with two main avenues running through it. The cardo maximus, the north-south thoroughfare, was the main one and it intersected the decumanus maximus in the middle where the Tetrapylon currently stands. This avenue was bordered by arched porticoes containing shops on either side, but only small sections of the colonnades and shops have survived (see photos).
The four Corinthian columns of the Tetrapylon mark the centre of Aanjar. They were erected at the point of intersection of the cardo maximus with the decumanus maximus, the two avenues dividing the city into four quarters. Much like other Corinthian columns in Aanjar, these were transported from nearby Roman ruins, probably from Baalbek, and reused in the construction of Aanjar.
The decumanus maximus, the smaller avenue, runs east-west through the city and crosses the cardo maximus at the point where the Tetrapylon is erected. A few of the arched porticoes along the decumanus are still standing upright. The small palace and the mosque are situated along this avenue.
The Great Palace is the highest remaining structure in Aanjar, albeit in ruins. Beautiful Byzantine-style arches on Roman-style Corinthian columns (reused from nearby Roman ruins) define where the central courtyard of this Omayyad palace once stood. Elegant Byzantine motifs decorate the doorways. The combination of three distinct civilisations, Roman, Byzantine and Omayyad, in this one palace is fascinating.
The cardo maximus was the main street of Aanjar. It was not dissimilar from the high street of a modern town, and was lined with hundreds of small shops. You can still see these lining both sides of the street, and as I wandered in each one, I wondered what they once sold. I guess a lot of them sold local produce, such as olive oil and dried figs, as well as textiles and other goods brought in by camel trains from far away.
The little palace was actually the royal harem of Aanjar. It is indeed smaller and in a more ruinous state than the caliph's great palace. but, if you examine it carefully, you can find some interesting little carvings of birds and foliage.