Sidon Things to Do

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    Khan el Franj
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    Soap Museum, entrance
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Most Recent Things to Do in Sidon

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    The Necropoli of Sidon

    by MM212 Updated Sep 9, 2010

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    Alexander Sarcophagus in Istanbul (Jan 2010)
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    Nothing illustrates the glorious past of the city of Sidon better than its ancient necropoli. The city had three main ones, two of which were used through the early Christian period, and one until the 19th century. One among them, the Royal Necropolis, was excavated in 1887 and surprised archaeologists with its incredible treasures. The exquisite Phoenician, Greek and Roman sarcophagi found on site were swiftly transported to the newly opened Archaeological Museum of Constantinople, today's Istanbul, where they are still on display. The most fabled treasure is the "Alexander Sarcophagus", so named not because it belonged to Alexander the Great, but rather because of the bas-relief carvings on the sarcophagus of him in battle. Even earlier, in 1858 in the Necropolis of Magharat Abloun, French archaeologists unearthed the sarcophagus of King Echmounazar, which was moved to Paris and is still on display at the Louvre. None of Sidon's necropoli is open to the public and only one is still under excavation. Although a few of Sidon's finds can be seen at the National Museum of Beirut, one has to travel all the way to Paris or to Istanbul to see its best treasures. I was fortunate enough to make it to both Istanbul and Paris by chance only three weeks after my visit to Sidon in January 2010. The attached photos were taken at the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul and represent only two out of countless amazing sarcophagi. Unfortunately, I was unable to follow with a visit to the Louvre in Paris to see the rest. Perhaps next time!

    For photo's of the sarcophagi in Istanbul, check out the travelogue: "Royal Necropolis of Sidon."

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    Bab el-Saray Mosque

    by MM212 Updated Feb 18, 2010

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    Interior of Bab el-Saray Mosque - Jan 2010
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    Said to be the oldest surviving mosque in Sidon, Bab el-Saray Mosque was built in 1201 AD. It takes its name from the nearby city gate, Bab el-Saray (Gate of the Palace), which refers to a non-extant palace that once occupied the open square next to the mosque. The interior of the mosque is a beautiful example of mediaeval stone architecture, with vaulted ceilings and pointed arches supported by columns. These grey columns appear to me as though they were recycled from ancient ruins.

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    The Great Mosque of al-Omari

    by MM212 Updated Feb 18, 2010

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    The Great Mosque of Sidon - Jan 2010

    Named after the second Caliph, Omar ibn al-Khattab, the Great Mosque of Sidon has a prominent high position in the old city, just north of the Egyptian Harbour. It occupies the site of a fortified Crusader complex that was used by the Knights Hospitaller, and though uncertain, historians say the main prayer hall may have been the Church Saint John of the Hospitallers (Eglise Saint Jean Hospitalier). The entire complex was converted and partially rebuilt into a mosque in 1291 AD, soon after the departure of the Crusaders, and is thus an intriguing mix of Crusader and Islamic styles. During the terrible 1982 Israeli bombings of Lebanon, al-Omari Mosque was partially destroyed, but it has since been rebuilt and restored.

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    Debbané Palace Museum

    by MM212 Updated Jan 29, 2010

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    Debban�� Palace Moorish windows - Sep 10
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    Still owned by the prominent Debbané family from Saïda, their namesake palace is now a museum open to the public. The palace was built in 1721 by the Moroccan Hammoud family who sold it to the Debbané family in 1800. The sumptuous palace is a beautiful example of Ottoman period architecture in Lebanon. It is located within the souk of Old Tripoli and parts of it are actually above the souk, with an arched passageway passing underneath (see photo).

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    The Barracks of Bahije Chhouré

    by MM212 Updated Jan 29, 2010

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    The lion sculpture - Jan 2010
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    Walking through the narrow alleys of Old Sidon, I came across this beautiful, derelict structure. The Arabic sign outside the gate called it the "Barracks of Bahije Chhouré" and it was probably owned by the Lebanese Army. The architecture, however, indicated that it had been built as a khan (caravanserai), likely in the 17th century along with the other known khans of Sidon, namely el-Franj and el-Roz. The façade was striped with alternating white and brown stones while the portal had a double pointed arch. Most interesting was a primitive carving of a chained lion in the upper left hand corner of the portal. As is typical in khan architecture, the interior consisted of a spacious courtyard surrounded by a double portico of pointed arches. Unfortunately, the courtyard was inaccessible. This khan is located at the northern end of Old Sidon, right between al-Barrané Mosque and Khan el-Roz.

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    Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Nicholas

    by MM212 Updated Jan 29, 2010

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    St Nicholas Cathedral of Sidon - Jan 2010
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    Hidden in a tiny alley within the souks of Sidon is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. It is a simple cavernous church consisting of a single nave and stone walls with no windows, topped by vaulted ceilings. The small church dates from the 8th century AD, but was rebuilt in 1690 AD. The site it occupies is believed to be the location where Saint Paul and Saint Peter met when they were in Sidon in 58 AD. Adjacent to it is the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church of Saint Nicholas, which was originally part of the same structure, but when the Melkites split up from the Greek Orthodox church, the structure was divided into two different churches. The Greek Catholic half has been closed since 1895, when the church transferred its episcopate to a newly built large cathedral, also dedicated to Saint Nicholas, just outside the old city walls.

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    Khan el-Franj

    by MM212 Updated Jan 29, 2010

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    Courtyard of Khan el-Franj (Jan 2010)
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    This grand edifice, Khan el-Franj, is Sidon's largest and most important caravanserai. It was built in 1610 AD and contains a spacious courtyard surrounded by double porticoes with pointed arches. Khan el-Franj was one of many caravanserais commissioned by Emir Fakhreddine in the 17th century to encourage trade and commerce, especially with Europe. It is said that, in this very khan, merchandise from Europe was exchanged for that from India. This particular khan was donated to French merchants (hence the name) who resided and conducted trade in it. It continued to be used by French consuls of Sidon until the 19th century, and for a period also served as a residence for Franciscan monks and as an orphanage for girls. Khan el-Franj was recently beautifully restored and turned into a cultural and exhibition centre.

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    Soap Museum

    by chizz Updated Jan 27, 2010
    Soap Museum - Sidon
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    The Soap Museum is an interesting place to visit while visiting Sidon and is free to enter. It is located in an area close to the souq called the Audi Islet, named after the Audi Family who have been responsible for the rehabilitation of the Soap Museum from an old soap factory. It was opened to the public in November, 2000.
    The soap factory building dates back to the 17th century and today we can see exhibits that show us how soap was made, the manufacturing process and different sorts of soap that have been made over the years. A historical section of the museum introduces artifacts which were found during on-site excavation and which include remains of clay pipe heads dating from the 17th to 19th century as well as pottery fragments. There is also a short film on the history of bath houses or hammam.
    There is also a small shop and coffee bar linked to the museum.
    Open daily from 9am-6pm. Closed on Fridays.

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    Sea Castle

    by chizz Updated Jan 27, 2010
    Sea Castle at Sidon - Lebanon
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    The Sea Castle at Sidon is probably the most visited sight and is the most prominent of the city's historic monuments.
    The present castle was built by the Crusaders to defend Sidon's harbour after they had recaptured the city from the Ayyubids in 1228. It was greatly dismantled by the Mamelukes in 1291 when they expelled the Crusaders for the last time and was later rebuilt. The slightly dishevelled look it has today is the result of damage caused by the bombardment of 1840.
    Today, after buying your ticket at the ticket booth, you walk over a stone causeway to reach a wooden bridge to cross to the entrance to the castle. You can see Roman columns laid horizontally in the walls here which were used for reinforcement; these can also be seen at Byblos and are a typical feature of Crusader architecture.
    Above the castle entrance you can see carvings of humans and lions and it's nice to climb the stairs to the top of the castle to get good views of the harbour and Sidon. There is also a small domed building on top, is a later edition to the castle which was once used as a mosque.
    The castle is open from 9am-6pm in summer and 9am-4pm in winter. Entry costs LL3,000.

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    Al-Barrané Mosque

    by MM212 Updated Jan 15, 2010

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    Al-Barrane Mosque - Jan 2010
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    Located outside the Beirut Gate of Old Sidon, al-Barrané Mosque was once called "Jami el-Bab" (Mosque of the Gate). It was built in the 17th century by Emir Fakhreddine II, who ruled Lebanon almost autonomously under the Ottomans. The mosque contains the tombs of the two sons of Fakhreddine.

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    Latin Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation

    by MM212 Updated Jan 15, 2010

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    Entrance to the Latin Church

    Known as the Latin Church, this Roman Catholic (Franciscan) complex contains a convent (Couvent de Terre Sainte), a school (École Nationale de Saïda), a parish (Paroisse Latine) and a church (Our Lady of the Annunciation, or Saydat al-Bchara in Arabic). It is adjacent to Khan el-Franj, but has an entrance on the narrow street around the corner from it (just north of Bab el-Saray Square). By Sidon's standards, the complex is relatively new, built in 1856, when Khan el-Franj housed the Franciscans. Across from the Latin Church is the old residence of the French consul. Note that what is called in English the Roman Catholic church is referred to as the Latin church in the Middle East.

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    Sidon - The Old Town

    by MM212 Updated Jan 14, 2010

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    Old Sidon's stone architecture - Jan 2010
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    Located just south of the Sea Castle, Old Sidon is a maze of narrow alleys and arched passages. These charming mediaeval streets meander between the city's well preserved stone architecture, vaulted passageways and arched portals, and lead to the foremost historic sites, from mosques and churches to hammams (Arab baths) and khans (caravanserais). Along these streets is also the traditional souk of Old Sidon, a delightful Middle Eastern shopping experience (see next tip). For those who know Aleppo, Old Sidon is reminiscent of Old Aleppo, albeit a miniature one in comparison. Old Sidon owes its recent rehabilitation and restoration work to benevolent wealthy families who originate in Saïda, most notably the Hariri family of Rafic Hariri, the ex-Prime Minister who was assassinated in 2005.

    For more photos, check out the travelogue: "Old Sidon".

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    The Souk

    by MM212 Updated Jan 14, 2010

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    The souk of Old Sidon - Jan 2010
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    Catering mainly to locals, the Souk of Old Sidon is an authentic Middle Eastern experience. Goods sold vary from agricultural produce to artisanal products often made on site: fruits, vegetables, meats, jewellery, carpentry, and clothes, to name a few. Many of the narrow alleys of the souks are known by the name of the merchandise that was once, and sometimes still is, made and sold in them. Carpenters can be found at Souk al-Najjarine, while butchers are at Souk al-Lahhamine, but to find jewellers, it is best to head for Souk al-Sagha. Long gone are the days when Sidon was one of the most important mercantile centres in the ancient world. Since then, Sidon has been mostly eclipsed by other nearby cities, but the one exceptional period occurred in the early 17th century, when Emir Fakhreddine II made Saïda, as it is known in Arabic, the primary port of Damascus. This age of prosperity lasted until the late 18th century, when Beirut began to take over. Much of the charming architecture of the souk was passed down from this period (see attached photos).

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    The Sea Castle

    by MM212 Updated Jan 14, 2010

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    The Sea Castle at sunset - Jan 2010
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    Sidon's city symbol, the Sea Castle (Qala'at al-Bahr in Arabic) stands on a tiny island off the shore, linked to the mainland by an 80-metre causeway. The castle was built in 1228 AD by the Crusaders, on the site of the Roman Temple of Melkart, the Phoenician god equated with Hercules. Stones from the ruins of the temple were recycled in the construction of the castle, while Roman columns were used to fortify the walls (these are the round grey granite stones that dot the walls). The castle was partially destroyed by the Mamlukes when they took over the city from the Crusaders, but they subsequently rebuilt it and added the long causeway. The castle later fell into disuse, but was again restored in the 17th century by Emir Fakhreddine II, only to suffer great damage in the British bombardments of Lebanon in 1840. In fact, it is said that the castle had been much more imposing before the damage inflicted then. The castle is open to visitors during the day and offers excellent views of the Mediterranean, the city of Sidon and the mountains beyond.

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    Khan el-Roz

    by MM212 Updated Jan 14, 2010

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    Khan el-Roz entrance - Jan 2010

    Khan el-Roz is another 17th century caravanserai built by Emir Fakhreddine in Old Sidon. Although smaller than Khan el-Franj, it also was an important entrepôt, with rice as the main item traded, hence the name (roz = rice). Egyptian rice, en route to Damascus, was typically traded and stored in this very khan. Unlike Khan el-Franj, though, this caravanserai has not undergone a recent renovation and is therefore in a worse state of preservation. It is currently occupied by the "Sami Dada Factory of Toffees & Candees!"

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