Sidon or Saïda (Arabic: صيدا) is the third-largest city in Lebanon. It is located in the South Governorate of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast, about 40 km (25 mi) north of Tyre and 40 km (25 mi) south of the capital Beirut. In Genesis, Sidon is the son of Canaan the grandson of Noah. Its name coincides with the modern Arabic word for fishery.
History of Sidon
Sidon has been inhabited since very early in prehistory. The archaeological site of Sidon II shows a lithic assemblage dating to the Acheulean, whilst finds at Sidon III include a Heavy Neolithic assemblage suggested to date just prior to the invention of pottery. It was one of the most important Phoenician cities, and may have been the oldest. From here, and other ports, a great Mediterranean commercial empire was founded. Homer praised the skill of its craftsmen in producing glass, purple dyes, and its women's skill at the art of embroidery. It was also from here that a colonizing party went to found the city of Tyre. Tyre also grew into a great city, and in subsequent years there was competition between the two, each claiming to be the metropolis ('Mother City') of Phoenicia. Glass manufacturing, Sidon's most important enterprise in the Phoenician era, was conducted on a vast scale, and the production of purple dye was almost as important. The small shell of the Murex trunculus was broken in order to extract the pigment that was so rare it became the mark of royalty.
In AD 1855, the sarcophagus of King Eshmun’azar II was discovered. From a Phoenician inscription on its lid, it appears that he was a "king of the Sidonians," probably in the 5th century BC, and that his mother was a priestess of ‘Ashtart, "the goddess of the Sidonians." In this inscription the gods Eshmun and Ba‘al Sidon 'Lord of Sidon' (who may or may not be the same) are mentioned as chief gods of the Sidonians. ‘Ashtart is entitled ‘Ashtart-Shem-Ba‘al '‘Ashtart the name of the Lord', a title also found in an Ugaritic text.
In the years before Jesus, Sidon had many conquerors: Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and finally Romans. Herod the Great visited Sidon. Both Jesus and Saint Paul are said to have visited it too (see Biblical Sidon below). The city was eventually conquered by the Arabs and then by the Ottoman Turks.
Like other Phoenician city-states, Sidon suffered from a succession of conquerors. At the end of the Persian era in 351 BC, it was invaded by the emperor Artaxerxes III and then by Alexander the Great in 333 BC when the Hellenistic era of Sidon began. Under the successors of Alexander, it enjoyed relative autonomy and organized games and competitions in which the greatest athletes of the region participated. In the Necropolis of Sidon, important finds such as the Alexander Sarcophagus, the Lycian tomb and the Sarcophagus of the Crying Women were discovered, which are now on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in Istanbul.
When Sidon fell under Roman domination, it continued to mint its own silver coins. The Romans also built a theater and other major monuments in the city. In the reign of Elagabalus a Roman colonia was established there, and it was given the name of Colonia Aurelia Pia Sidon. During the Byzantine period, when the great earthquake of AD 551 destroyed most of the cities of Phoenicia, Beirut's School of Law took refuge in Sidon. The town continued quietly for the next century, until it was conquered by the Arabs in AD 636.
On December 4, 1110 Sidon was sacked in the First Crusade by King Baldwin of Jerusalem and King Sigurd of Norway. It then became the centre of the Lordship of Sidon, an important seigneury in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. During the Crusades it was sacked several times: it was finally destroyed by the Saracens in 1249. In 1260 it was again destroyed by the Mongols. The remains of the original walls are still visible.
After Sidon came under Ottoman Turkish rule in the seventeenth century, it regained a great deal of its earlier commercial importance. After World War I it became part of the French Mandate of Lebanon. During World War II the city, together with the rest of Lebanon, was captured by British forces fighting against the Vichy French, and following the war it became a major city of independent Lebanon.
Although Sidon in 1900 was a small fishing town of 10,000 inhabitants, studies in 2000 showed a population of 65,000 in the city and around 200,000 in the metropolitan area. The little level land around the city is used for cultivation of some wheat, vegetables and fruits, especially citrus and bananas. The fishing in the city remains active with a newly opened fishery that sells fresh fish by bidding every morning. The ancient basin is transformed into a fishing port while a small quay was constructed to receive small commercial vessels.
Old City of Sidon
The historical core of Sidon is a Mamluk-era old city that extends between the Sea Castle and the St. Louis Castle. Located on a promontory jutting into the sea, this walled medieval city is very well-preserved and is still inhabited today. The old City resembles a vaulted maze with narrow alleyways and winding streets. Arched pathways connect the different neighborhoods of the city. On street level, numerous souvenir shops and mini-markets can be found with old-fashioned bakeries making crunchy whole-wheat bread, called "Kaak". A lot of the alleys take the name of their residents' occupations like the "Carpenters' Alley" and the "Tailors' Alley". Several mosques dating back to the Umayyad Era are still preserved and are open to the public. A number of TV series and Music Videos have been filmed inside the Old city of Sidon. Being of great historical and architectural significance, the Old City went through a lot of renovations and there is still of restoring to be done.
Main sights in Sidon
- Sidon Sea Castle, a fortress built by the Crusaders in the early 13th century. It is located near the Port of Sidon.
- Sidon Soap Museum. It traces the history of the soap making in the region and its different manufacturing steps.
- Khan el Franj (“Caravanserai of the French”), built by Emir Fakhreddine in the 17th century to accommodate French merchants and goods in order to develop trade with Europe. This is a typical khan with a large rectangular courtyard and a central fountain surrounded by covered galleries.
- Debbane Palace, a historical residence built in 1721, an example of Arab-Ottoman architecture. It is currently in the process of being transformed into the History Museum of Sidon.
- Old Souk, a historical vaulted market stretching between the Sea Castle and the Castle of St. Louis.
- The Castle of St. Louis (Qalaat Al Muizz). It was built by the Crusaders in the 13th century on top of the remains of a fortress built by the Fatimid caliph Al Muizz. It is located to the south of old souks near Murex hill.
- Eshmun Temple, dedicated to the Phoenician God of healing. Built in the 7th century BC, it is located in the north of Sidon near the Awali river.
- The Ziri, a tiny rocky island located 1.5 km off the coastline of Sidon. In ancient times, it was used as a breakwater for the protection of ships and fleets. The island is a preferred destination for the locals who come here for picnics and swimming. The island is accessed by several ferry boats from the port of Sidon.
- Our Lady of Mantara, or Our Lady of Awaiting, a Christian shrine dedicated to the veneration of the Virgin Mary. It is located on a 400 m high green hill overlooking Sidon. The shrine is built on a small cave where it is the believed that the Virgin Mary stayed and prayed while Jesus went preaching in Sidon. The shrine is composed of a Marian tower - with a Bronze statue of Mary on top - and a Large Catholic Basilica, the 3rd largest church in the Middle East.
- The Corniche is a seaside promenade that extends for about 7&nsbp;km along the city's coast. The Corniche is a popular destination for walkers, joggers, skaters and bikers. Push cart vendors offer an array of local snacks and drinks.
- The Largest Lebanese Flag. On Lebanon's 66th Independence Day, Sidon witnessed the erection of the largest Lebanese flag. The flag is 12 meters long and 6 meters wide, and was erected on a 21 meter high pole. The flag was raised on the intersection of Rafik Hariri Boulevard and Riyad Solh Street, and is easily accessible from the Corniche. The flag was painted by 66 students from the city.
- The Bahaa El-Dine Mosque. Financed by Rafik Hariri and named after his father, the mosque is a 21st-century take on Istanbul's Ottoman Mosques. Located on a roundabout on the city's northern entrance, the mosque is an architectural gem that dots the city's skyline. The mosque with its authentic Arabesque designs, interior Islamic inscriptions, inner courtyards, Mecca-styled minarets and awe-inspiring 36-meter-high dome is a non-miss landmark in the city.
Shopping and entertainment in Sidon
Sidon contains several shopping venues boasting local and international brands, as well as a handful of food and beverage outlets like the "Spinneys" and "BSAT" supermarkets. Traditional Coffeeshops serving Turkish coffee and the fruit-flavored Hubble Bubble occupy the seafront of the Old City while modern restaurants, especially those that serve Lebanese and Italian cuisine, are centered in the new city. From McDonald's and KFC to Starbucks, Burger King and Pizza Hut, several western chains have opened at least one branch in the city, with more opening in the near future. Traditional Oriental sweets are Sidon's speciality with regionally renowned sweetshops found all over the city.
Shopping is concentrated within two areas: East Boulevard, and the city center. From the high-end designer stores of Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior to stores directed to low and middle-income consumers, clothing stores in Sidon cater to all tastes and needs. Several other international clothing brands could be found in the city. These include ALDO, Jack & Jones, Vero Moda, Springfield, Timberland, Zara, Mango, Pull and Bear, Mothercare, Bossini, H&M, Benetton, and GS. Some of these stores could be found in the 2 malls in the city, Saida Mall (24,000 sq meters) and Le Mall (12,000 sq meters), aside to kids entertainment facilities, cafes and restaurants.
Sidon also has a large Amusement Park near its southern entrance.
Festivals and celebrations in Sidon
- The "Nights of the Khan" festival, consisting of a series of concerts and performances held in the Khan El-Franj in the Old City of Sidon. The festival takes place during the holy month of Ramadan. It is organized by the International Sidon Festivals Committee and the Hariri Foundation. The Festival hosts a wide array of artists and performers; it features Sufi art, poetry recitals, religious song medleys, Folkloric Lebanese and Palestinian dance groups. The festival was frequently attended by the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Tourism Minister, Education Minister, Culture Minister aside to numerous social, political and religious Lebanese figures.
- The "Wedding of the City" is a street carnival held in Sidon in the El-Fitr Muslim Holiday. The carnival runs for three consecutive days and is organized by the International Sidon Festivals Committee and the Hariri Foundation. The Carnival takes place on a 300-meter-long section of the Coastal Highway -extending between the Sidon Sea Castle and the Port- that gets closed and transformed into a Pedestrian-only zone. Last summer, the carnival attracted more than 30,000 spectators on its 3rd day. The carnival features European and Local Acrobats, giant floating balloons, exotic dancers, a light and sound show...etc.
- Independence Day Celebrations. Sidon played a significant role in Lebanon's quest for Independence in the early 1940s whether through its nationalist politicians or through its citizens' protests and demonstrations demanding Independence. Hence, On the 22nd of November of every year, Sidon celebrates Lebanon's Independence through a series of festivities that involve: a Military Parade in the Barracks of the Lebanese Army, an honorary reception in the city's serial held by the Governor, and a tribute to Sidong's independence figure Adel Osseiran. 2009's Independence day celebrations featured an extra festivity which is the erection of the largest Lebanese flag, on the city's northern entrance.