Sidon in History

Sidon is of immense antiquity, but few remains of the ancient city have survived the ravages of time and man. There is evidence that Sidon was inhabited as long ago as 4000 B.C., and perhaps even earlier, in Neolithic times. It was twice destroyed in war between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C., and again during the earthquake in the 6th Century A.D.

Like most Phoenician cities, Sidon was built on a promontory facing an island,which sheltered its fleet from storms off the sea, and became a refuge during armed incursions from the surpassed all other Phoenician cities in wealth, commercial initiative, and religious significance.At the height of the Persian Empire (550 - 330 B.C.) Sidon provided Persia, a great land power, with the ships and seamen it needed to fight the Egyptians and Greeks. This vital role gave Sidon and its kings a highly favored position during that period. The Persians maintained a royal park in Sidon and it was then that the Temple of Echmoun was built and became an important place of pilgrimage. The cult of Mithra survived here even after Constantine the Great sought to wipe out paganism. The Mithraeum of Sidon escaped destruction because the followers of Mithra walled off the entrance to the underground sanctuary. Evidence supports the belief that the sanctuary may have been beneath the foundations of the present Greek Catholic Archbishopric.

Glass manufacture, Sidon's most important enterprise, was conducted on such a vast scale that the very invention of glass has often been attributed to it. Exceedingly vigorous, too, was the production of purple dye for garments of royalty, as attested by Murex Hill, a huge mound of remains of the shellfish Murex trunculus from which the dye was obtained. Sidon was also famous in ancient times for its gardens and its twin-basin harbor.

Like other Phoenician capitals, Sidon suffered the depredations of a succession of conquerors. At the end of the Persian era, unable to resist the superior forces of the emperor Artaxerxes lll, the desperate Sidonians lockedtheir gates and immolated themselves in their homes rather than submit to the invader. More than 40,000 died in the flames. Shortly after, in 333 B.C., the decimated city was too weak to o ppose the triumphal march down the coast of Alexander the Great, and sued for peace. The city had the status of re public in the early days of Roman domination (64 B.C. - 330 A.D.) before passing into the hands of the Byzantines and, in 667, of the Arabs.

In 1111, Sidon was besieged and stormed by the Crusader Baldwin, soon to become King of Jerusalem. Under Frankish rule, it became the chief town of the seigniory of Sagette and \ he second of the four baronies of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1187, the city surrendered to Saladin, but was re-occupied by the Crusaders in 1287, later passing into the hands of the Saracens. The Templars recaptured it briefly before abandoning it for good in 1291 after the fall of Acre to the Mameluk forces. In the 15th Century, Sidon was one of the ports of Damascus. It flourished once more during the 1 7th Century when itwasrebuiltby Fakhreddine lI,thenrulerof Lebanon, although he was oblige\ to fill in Sidon-s harbor out of fear of the Turkish fleet. Under his protection and with his encouragement, a n umber of French merchants set up profitable business enterprises in Sidon for trade between France and Syria, S\ don still being considered the chief port of Damascus.

By the beginning of the 19th Century, Sidon had sunk into obscurity. It became a part of geographical Lebanon, as it now exists, after the First World War when the Ottoman Empire, in which Sidon was administered as part of Greater Syria, was divided into spheres of influence by the allies. Lebanon\ then became a French mandate until the country gained its independence in 1943.

Classical literature abounds in references to Sidon.It is mentioned in the poem s of Homer. Virgil, in the Aeneid, speaks of Dido, Queen of Carthage, who was Sidon-born. In the Bible, it is referred to as the most ancient of the Canaanite coastal cities (Genesis: 10: 15, 19). This is where Jesus cas\ the devil out of the Canaanite woman's daughter (Mark 7: 24-30). St. Paul was permitted to land here on his way to Rome as a prisoner "to go unto his friends to refresh himself" (Acts 27: 1-3). In the 1 st Century A.D., the Gree\ k geographer Strabo wrote that Sidon rivalled Tyre not only in size and fame but also in antiquity. Literary and scientific publications of the 19th Century,which looked upon Phoe nicia as the precursor of all civilzation described it as the cradle of the humanities and the arts.


Old engraving of Saida and the Sea-Castle


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