The Temple of Eshmoun, less than an hour from Beirut, is situated
1km from Sidon in a lush valley of citrus groves on the Awwali River. The site
known locally as " Bustan esh-Sheikh".Whether you visit in spring when
the air is fragrant with blossoms, or early winter when the fruit is ripe,
Eshmoun is special.
This Phoenician temple complex dedicated to the healing god
Eshmoun, is the only Phoenician site in Lebanon that has retained more than
its foundation stones.
Building began at the end of the 7th Century BC and later additions were made
in the following Centuries. Thus, many elements near the original temple site
were completed long after the Phoenician era, including the Roman period
colonnade, mosaics, a nymphaeun and the foundations of a Byzantine Church. All
of these buildings testify to the site's lasting importance.
Phoenician Temple complex, dedicated to the healing god Eshmoun, is the only
Phoenician site in Lebanon that has retained more than its foundation
stones. Building was begun at the end of the 7th century B.C. and later
additions were made in the following centuries. Thus, many elements near the
original temple site were completed long after the Phoenician era, including
the Roman period colonnade, mosaics, a nymphaeun, and the foundations of a
Byzantine Church. All of these buildings testify to the site’s lasting
Legend has it that Eshmoun was a young man of
Beirut who loved to hunt. The goddess Astarte fell in love with him, but to
escape her advances he mutilated himself and died. Not to be outdone, Astarte
brought him back to life in the form of a god. It is also said that the
village of the young god’s tomb.
Known primarily as a god of
healing, Eshmoun’s death and resurrection also gave him the role of a
fertility god who dies and is reborn annually.
As the god of
healing, Eshmoun was identified with Asklepios, the Greek god of medical art.
It is from belief in the healing power of Eshmoun-Asklepios and the snake that
we get the sign of the medical profession that is now used worldwide. Our
modern caduceus, a staff interview is derived from these symbols.
The caduceus can be
seen in a gold plaque of Eshmoun and the goddess Hygeia (Health) which was
found near the temple. It shows Eshmoun holding in his right hand a staff
around which a serpent is entwined. There is also an early 3rd
century A.D. Beirut coin depicting Eshmoun standing between two serpents.
Each Phoenician city-state had its own
gods, and Eshmoun was one of the favorites of Sidon. The site of his temple
must have been chosen because of the nearby water source, which was used in
the healing rituals. It was the custom to offer statues to the god that bore
the names of those who came for healing. The fact that most of these votive
pieces depict children suggests that eshmoun may have been regarded as the
pediatrician of the times.
During the Persian era, between the 6th and 4th
centuries B.C, Sidon was the first Phoenicia city to be noted for the opulence
of its kings, the advanced culture of its intelligentsia and the excellent
reputation of its industry. The Persian kings held the kings of Sidon in great
regard and granted them many rewards, especially for the Sidonian fleet’s
active participation on their side during their wars against Egyptians and
It was at that time that Eshmounazar II,
the son of Tabnit I, acceded to the throne. Inscriptions found on the
sarcophagus of Eshmounazar (discovered in 1858 and now in the Louvre Museum)
relate that he and his mother Amashtarte (servant of Astarte) built temples to
the god of Sidon. One of these was the temple of the Holy God “Eshmoun at the
source of Yidlal near the cistern.”
The temple of Eshmoun built by
Eshmounazar II and rediscovered in the century during the excavations at
Boustan esh-Sheikh, was destroyed around the middle of the fourth century B.C.
Although the temple was never rebuilt, some small buildings,
chapels and pools were
restored. This allowed visitors, pagan as well as Christian, to attend the
sanctuary. The site remained popular until the end of the third century A.D.,
even though it was largely in ruins and littered with debris.
For centuries before its excavation, the site of the Temple
of Eshmoun was used as a quarry. Emir Fakhreddine, for example, used its
massive blocks to build a bridge over the Awwali River in the 17th
century. Today only the foundations of this bridge remain.
In 1900, an Ottoman expedition found Phoenician
inscriptions in the area of the yet undiscovered temple. Twenty years later
successful soundings were made on the site and in 1925-26 excavations near the
river uncovered the Roman mosaic floor and several marble statuettes of
children dating to the Hellenistic period (330-64 B.C.). Another inscription
in Phoenician letters bearing the name Eshmoun was found near the river a
short time later.
A few kilometers from the site inscriptions bearing the
name of Bodashtart were found, probably incised on the occasion on the
completion of an important canal system.
Although the land around the site was purchased in the
mid-1940’s serious excavation work did not begin until 1963.
Information From the Ministry of