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For the first time, archaeologists are revealing the 4,000-year history of one of ancient Lebanon's oldest ports

the modern town of Sidon sits directly
on top of the ancient one

Although the modern town of Sidon sits directly on top of the ancient one, a multinational team has been working for more than a decade to uncover the many layers of the city's rich history. (Courtesy Mahan Kalpa Khalsa)

Wedged between a road and decaying old houses perched on a hill, sits a massive excavation site. A century ago, this was the location of an American school and, after that, until a decade ago, was simply a vacant lot. But Lebanese archaeologist Claude Doumet-Serhal and her multinational team have transformed this apparently unremarkable spot into a window on the rich ancient history of the port city of Sidon. "In this little piece of land we have everything, a slice of civilization," she says. "It's very exciting." The reason for Doumet-Serhal's enthusiasm is easy to see. In the shade of nearby bushes are piles of Roman bases, columns, and capitals. Crumbling houses sit atop the remains of a medieval wall within view of a ruined Crusader-era castle. Just beyond lies another thirteenth-century castle, overlooking the rocky shore of the Mediterranean Sea along Lebanon's coast. Sidon is so old that, according to the Book of Genesis, it was named after the great-grandson of Noah. In antiquity, the city attracted an impressive array of visitors, both welcome and unwelcome, including the first-century B.C. king of Judea, Herod the Great; Jesus and St. Paul; the armies of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.; the twelfth-century A.D. Norwegian king Sigurd; and the Mongols of Central Asia a century later.

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Andrew Lawler is a contributing editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.