Remember our previous side-trip to Byblos? Well, we've now visited another incredibly ancient place that has been continuously inhabited for the last 6000 years or so, Sidon (صيدا)!
This was another important commercial point of the Mediterranean. Homer talked about it. They even founded Tyre. And like Byblos, its long history means it went from Phoenician rule to Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, French and British. It can't get any more colourful, right?
Also, I'm beginning to realize these places we're seeing can't be fully understood and explored on just a single short visit. These are places meant to be enjoyed repeatedly, letting the centuries of rich history unfold slowly in front of you.
Anyhow, this time we just saw a couple of things. First of all, and impossible to miss because it's pretty much on the way to one of the very main sights, is this mosque, whose name I couldn't get. Frankly, it's somewhat unassuming. But this is the first mosque we ever went into together. Which sort of made it feel special.
But what blew our mind was this gorgeous, fantastic, magical place (from my point of view): le Château sur la Mer. You see, most of the time places have French translations of Arabic names instead of English ones and, frankly, Château sur la Mer sounds way more romantic than Sidon's Sea Castle (قلعة صيدا البحرية)!
And it is exactly what it is. A crusader castle, on the sea, joined to thye mainland by a long narrow path. It's simply beautiful! And peaceful! Despite this being such a unique place, tourism is, well, almost non-existent, and we were the only ones there!
Of course, we entered, and explored the place at will! Fun! There was a very castle-y vaulted room, Roman columns serving as reinforncements of the walls (!!), views of the sea and of town from the roof, and a small Ottoman mosque too (that little square structure on the top right in the first photo of the castle). I guess this might also become another favourite site for me?
Afterwards, we headed to a restaurant nearby, the Sidon resthouse. It has views of the sea. It has views of the castle (I mean, it's right next to it!), and the food is absolutely delicious! But mind you, our food was no typical 2-3 course dinner. It was just appetizers! See, they call appetizers "mezze" (مزه), a word that reveals the country's long history: it's a Turkish word that came in via Persian that means taste or snack. But mezze is way, way more than "just snacks"! We had baba ghanouj (بابا غنوج), cooked eggplant with onion and spices; hummus (حمّص), or chickpea spread; falafel (فلافل), or fried chickpea balls; kibbeh (كبة), a minced beef croquette; labneh (لبنة), or strained yogourt; tabbouleh (تبولة), a fantastic mix of parsley, bulgur and other things; fattoush (فتوش), a toasted pita bread and greens salad; amazing olives (زيتون)... See? how could anyone possibly need a "main dish" with these flavourful, delicious, amazing "side dishes"! And like I said, all the while with views of the sea and the castle. Unbeatable.
Now, ordering wasn't that easy. Navigating our way through a new food culture is complicated, and I can tell waiters get a bit annoyed at our lack of understanding (both linguistic and cultural), but once the food arrives on the table, it's all bliss.
Merci Saïda (Sidon's name in Arabic and French)!