Robert Fisk: Phoenician Footprints All Over Beirut






Robert Fisk is a multiple award-winning journalist on the Middle East, based in Beirut.

I walked down a Phoenician street the other day, built under Persian rule.

A bit bumpy and uneven underfoot – like many a street in modern day Iranian and Lebanese cities – but this one happened to be about 2,600 years old. It ran down to a small harbour, lined by covered stone sewers and drainage ditches on each side, massive door lintels before private homes and a row of shops and warehouses and possibly a temple, five streets and 18 buildings over an area of 3000sq m.

I should say at once that this street constructed under Persian occupation is scarcely two miles from my home on the Beirut seafront, one of the great excavations which the rebuilding of the post-civil war city opened up for future generations, layer after layer of Paleolithic, Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Ottoman Beirut. The place was originally known as "byrt" – which possibly means cistern or well, according to researcher Josette Elayi – then it became Berytos in Greek, Berytus in Latin and now, of course, Beirut. The names are sandwiched together like the layers of streets. This street even yielded up terracotta figures of a woman with outstretched arms, probably the deity Ashtart....



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