Sidon, located 40 km from Beirut, is a small but important port city for Lebanon with a population of about 170 thousand people, immersed in the greenery of citrus orchards and banana groves. More than two thousand years ago, however, Sidon was one of the most important cities of the powerful state of Phoenicia, which became rich in trade with Egypt and was famous for its magnificent glassware. Traces of the long and eventful history of Sidon can be seen everywhere – in the gaps between the poor houses of its inhabitants, ancient ruins suddenly peep through, and the entrance from the sea is reliably protected by the Sea Fortress of the 13th century. 2 km from Sidon are the well-preserved ruins of the Phoenician temple of the god Eshmun with the fantastic beauty of the throne of Astarte. Well, if you are more attracted to local flavor than history, welcome to the only and very interesting Soap Museum in Lebanon.
Note: according to allcitypopulation, the population of Lebanon is 6.769 million (2021).
Sidon is not a tourist city at all – the locals pay absolutely no attention either to the Phoenician ruins or to the tourists examining them. So a trip to Sidon is also a great way to feel like a pioneer archaeologist on the remains of ancient cultures, and look at Lebanese life from the inside.
How to get to Sidon
Getting to Sidon on your own is as easy as shelling pears – from Beirut, from the Cola transport station, buses and minibuses-“services” regularly depart here. Buses of the transport company Zantout start every hour from 6 am to 9 pm. Travel time is about 30 minutes, the fare will cost 3000 LBP. Faster minibuses leave for Sidon every 10-15 minutes from 6:30 am to 8:30 pm and charge passengers 2000 LBP “on the nose”. A taxi ride will cost 6000 LBP; they leave as soon as all passenger seats are occupied, but you don’t have to wait long.
Sidon is also connected by a stable transport connection with Tire – the same buses operate on the route – regular and mini – and “services”. Travel time is from 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Transport in the city
All the main sights of Sidon are located in the old city, and you can easily move between them on foot. Municipal transport is represented in the city by taxis, the payment of which must be agreed before boarding.
2 km from Sidon are the well-preserved ruins of the Phoenician temple of the god Eshmun with the fantastic beauty of the throne of Astarte.
Due to the low popularity of Sidon as a place of deployment for tourists (most come here “one day”), there are few hotels in the city that deserve attention – exactly two. If you feel like spending the night in Sidon, look no further than the Al Qalaa Hotel, housed in an old restored building opposite the port. The interiors are crammed with curiosities, and there is a wonderful cafe on the roof with a panoramic view of the harbor. They ask for such luxury only 100 USD for a “double”. The second profitable house of Sidon is called “Yakub”, boasts an equally solid history of 200 years, clean and comfortable rooms and more than an acceptable fee of 90 USD for double occupancy.
4 things to do in Sidon
- Climb the defensive wall of the Sea Fortress and admire the Roman columns lying at the bottom of the sea.
- Buy a kilogram or two of saniura shortbread biscuits at the old market.
- Sit on the throne of Astarte, guarded by sphinxes, in the temple of Eshmun, and feel like an object of worship.
- To understand that soap is not just soap, but a whole philosophy, at the Soap Museum.
Cuisine and restaurants of Sidon
The main place of concentration of eateries in Sidon is the corniche promenade. Tourists will find many eateries here serving falafel, grilled fish and seafood, and meze snacks. The most popular local eatery is Abu Rami. You can also kill a worm in the labyrinth of the markets of the old city, and dine “with taste” in the restaurant “Rest House”, where you will be “rolled out” the longest menu of local traditional dishes. A view of the Sea Fortress and the sea itself is included.
Entertainment and attractions of Sidon
Sea fortress of Sidon – erected in 1228 on a separate island on the outskirts of the harbor Sea fortress. Once upon a time, the Phoenician temple of Melkart (the “predecessor” of Hercules) towered on the island, and later the crusaders took over the advantageous place – they built the fortress. From the fortress walls you can see the remains of pink granite columns resting on the seabed.
Old Sidon, a network of narrow streets of the souk covered market, arched passages with scattered skeletons of medieval buildings here and there, stretched out behind modern houses along the embankment. There are more than 60 monuments of historical significance in the old city, however, most of them are nothing more than ruins. The first thing to do here is to go on a shopping tour of the “suk”, where artisans still work in the same way as their distant ancestors did about 28 centuries ago.
Do not miss the chance to buy orange blossom water and traditional shortbread “saniura” here.
Khan el-Franzh (“hotel of foreigners”) – the most beautiful example of medieval inns due to careful restoration; it was built by Fakhreddin in the 17th century. Here you can admire the tiers of arches that support the floors and a spacious rectangular courtyard with a fountain in the center, as well as learn more about the restoration of ancient buildings at the Architectural Preservation Foundation located on the same site.
Another gem of old Sidon is the magnificent Debbane Palace, built in 1721. It is worth paying attention to the exquisite interiors in the style of the Mamluk dynasty – painted walls and ceilings made of cedar wood, as well as interesting artifacts presented within the walls of this palace-museum.
The small but absolutely charming Soap Museum is housed in an old 17th century soap factory. The exposition tells in detail about the intricacies and intricacies of the process of “savonification” – the production of soap, for the uninitiated; which is especially nice – explanations in English. Here you can also have a cup of coffee in a cozy cafe and buy “true” soap for the “correct” washing.
The religious architectural monuments of Sidon are the most beautiful Omari Mosque (13th century) and the oldest mosque in the city – Bab el-Saray (beginning of the 13th century).
Temple of Ashmun
Located 2 km northeast of Sidon, the temple of Eshmun (7th century BC) is a magnificent (for the past 28 centuries, of course) preserved ruins of an ancient Phoenician religious building dedicated to the healer god and concurrently the patron of Sidon Eshmun. The archaeological park includes, in addition to the temple itself, the remains of outbuildings and craft shops nearby. Most of the buildings surrounding the temple belong to later periods – their “authorship” is attributed to the Persians, Romans and Byzantines, but the indisputable masterpiece of the temple – the throne of Astarte with two winged sphinxes – is a work of fantasy and the hands of the Phoenicians. Pay attention also to interesting mosaics – these are one of the first examples of the intricate art of stone “painting”.
You can get to the temple of Eshmun from Sidon by taxi for 10000 LBP, minibus for 2500 LBP or minibus for 1500 LBP. The last two modes of transport will drop you off at a turn in the road, from where you will have to walk the remaining 1.5 km to the ruins – the path runs through gardens and vegetable gardens and the walk itself will be a pleasant experience. Entrance to the archaeological park is free; Opening hours are from 8 am to sunset.