A few months ago I heard about Theodore May who was walking in Alexander’s footsteps from the Turkish-Syrian border all the way to Babylon in today’s Iraq (see: More in the Footsteps of Alexander the Great). On his way along the eastern Mediterranean coast he had to cross Lebanon, a country of which we know very little since tourism is virtually non existent and we have only a vague idea of the archeological treasures that may be hidden there.
The Romans have occupied that part of their Empire and have left their imprints atop of much older cities like Baalbek, to name just one. To my surprise Theodore May was talking about ruins of the Greek civilization that preceded the Roman. Of course, Alexander the Great must have crossed these lands after he conquered Egypt, heading east to strike a final blow on King Darius of Persia. Yet so little is documented of this itinerary and I personally wonder about the place and name of Umm el-Amed I am hearing here for the first time.
[picture by Theodore May]
On his way, Theodore May met up with Dr Paul Newson, who has done extensive fieldwork throughout the Middle East, and together they set out to find this ancient city, only a few miles from the tense Lebanon-Israel border hidden in a field amidst overgrown thorn bushes. It really turns out to be in the middle of nowhere as they drive down from Tyre, across banana fields and small villages, till they reach a narrow country lane with still no ruins in sight.
It takes a professional eye like that of Paul Newson to know which way to go. After some scrambling the two men find themselves standing on the old temple complex of Milk Ashtart, on the edge of the ancient Umm el-Amed civilization. A little further, to the East they find another temple. The foundation of the temples is still very much intact, and several column segments lie around it. The original complex from the 5th century BC is considered as the Phoenician prototype for the Greek god Heracles, and these two temples were built some time between 287 and 222 BC. i.e. long after Alexander the Great had crossed the region. Their date links them to the Ptolemaic period, when it was fashion to combine Greek religious elements with the local pagan deities.
The site of Umm el-Amed was discovered by a French explorer in 1772, but excavations didn't start until 1861 and even those cannot have been very serious. According to Paul Newson, further excavations are unlikely for their cost would be astronomical. Beside, there is no money to be made in return by visiting tourists – not yet at least...