The Umayyads, the first hereditary dynasty of Islam, ruled from Damascus in the first century after the Prophet Mohammed, from 660 to 750 A.D. They are credited with the great Arab conquests that created an Islamic empire stretching from the Indus Valley to southern France.
Skilled in administration and planning, their empire prospered for 100 years. Defeat struck them when the Abbasids - their rivals and their successors - took advantage of the Umayyad's increasing decadence.
Some chronicles and literary documents inform us that it was Walid I, son of Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who built the city of Aanjar between 705 and 715 A.D.
Just after Lebanon gained independence in 1943, the country's General Directorate of Antiquities began to investigate a strip of land in the Békaa Valley sandwiched between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains, some 58 kilometers east of Beirut. This was Aanjar, then a stretch of bland bareness with parched shrubbery and stagnant swamps that covered the vast area of these archaeological remains.
Today's name,"Anjar" comes from the Arabic Ain Gerrah,"The source of Gherrah", the name of an ancient stronghold founded in the era prior to Hellenistic times or "water from the rock", and is known for the streams that flow from the nearby mountains. Anjar has a special beauty.
Anjar also stands unique as the only historic example of an inland commercial center. The city benefited from its strategic position on intersecting trade routes leading to Damascus, Homs, Baalbeck and to the South.
Lebanon's other sites were founded a millennia ago, but Anjar is a relative new-comer, going back to the early 8th century AD. Unlike Tyre and Byblos, which claim continuous habitation since the day they were founded, Anjar flourished for only a few decades.
The site at first seemed painfully modest, especially when compared with the rest of Lebanon's archaeological wonders. What attracted the antiquities experts to Aanjar were not so much the ruins themselves, as the information they held.Beneath the impersonal grayness of Aanjar, the experts suggested, lay the vestiges of the 8th century Umayyad dynasty that ruled from Damascus and held sway over an empire. That idea was particularly interesting because Lebanon - that unique crossroads of the ages - boasted ample archaeological evidence of almost all stages of Arab history with the exception of the Umayyad era.
Early in the excavation engineers drained the swamp. Stands of evergreen cypress and eucalyptus trees were planted and still flourish today, giving these stately ruins a park-like setting.
While built from scratch by the Omayaads, it used classic Roman design, a square walled city with four towers and gates. Anjar is bisected horizontally and vertically by two main streets, the Cardo Maximus and the Documanus Maximus. At its peak, it housed more than 600 shops, Roman-style baths, two palaces and a mosque. Below is a VR panorama of Anjar that contains links to the architecturally significant aspects of the ruins. A more detailed explanation of the ruins can be found beneath the panorama.
The Site Today
Aanjar is open daily. Close to the ruins of Aanjar are a number of restaurants that offer fresh trout and a full array of Lebanese and Armenian dishes. Some of the restaurants are literally built over the trout ponds. Aanjar has no hotels, but lodging can found in Chtaura, 15 kilometers away.