Sidon, Zidon or Saïda, is the third-largest city in Lebanon. It is located in the South Governorate of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast, about 40 km (25 mi) north of Tyre and 40 km (25 mi) south of the capital Beirut. Its name means a fishery.
Sidon was inhabited since 4000 BC and perhaps as early as Neolithic times (6000 - 4000 B.C.). It was one of the most important Phoenician cities, and may have been the oldest. From here, and other ports, a great Mediterranean commercial empire was founded. Homer praised the skill of its craftsmen in producing glass and purple dyes. It was also from here that a colonizing party went to found the city of Tyre
Tyre also grew into a great city, and in subsequent years there was competition between the two, each claiming to be the metropolis ('Mother City') of Phoenicia. Glass manufacturing, Sidon's most important enterprise in the Phoenician era, was conducted on a vast scale, and the production of purple dye was almost as important. The small shell of the Murex trunculus was broken in order to extract the pigment that was so rare it became the mark of royalty
In 1855 AD, the sarcophagus of King Eshmun'azar II was discovered. From a Phoenician inscription on its lid, it appears that he was a "king of the Sidonians," probably in the 5th century BC, and that his mother was a priestess of 'Ashtart, "the goddess of the Sidonians." In this inscription the gods Eshmun and Ba'al Sidon 'Lord of Sidon' (who may or may not be the same) are mentioned as chief gods of the Sidonians. 'Ashtart is entitled 'Ashtart-Shem-Ba'al ''Ashtart the name of the Lord', a title also found in an Ugaritic text.
Sidon Sea CastleIn the years before Jesus, Sidon had many conquerors: Assyrians; Babylonians; Egyptians; Greeks and finally Romans. Herod the Great visited Sidon; both Jesus and Saint Paul are said to have visited it (see Biblical Sidon below). The city was eventually conquered by the Arabs and then by the Ottoman Turks.
Like other Phoenician city states, Sidon suffered from a succession of conquerors. At the end of the Persian era in 351 BC, it was invaded by the emperor Artaxerxes III and then by Alexander the Great in 333 BC when the Hellenistic era of Sidon began. Under the successors of Alexander, it enjoyed relative freedom and organized games and competitions in which the greatest athletes of the region participated.
When Sidon fell under Roman domination, it continued to mint its own silver coins. The Romans also built a theater and other major monuments in the city. In the reign of Elagabalus a Roman colonia was established there, and it was given the name of Colonia Aurelia Pia Sidon. During the Byzantine period, when the great earthquake of 551 AD destroyed most of the cities of Phoenicia, Beirut's School of Law took refuge in Sidon. The town continued quietly for the next century, until it was conquered by the Arabs in 636 AD.
On December 4, 1110 Sidon was sacked in the First Crusade. It then became the centre of the Lordship of Sidon, an important seigneury in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. During the Crusades it was sacked several times: it was finally destroyed by the Saracens in 1249. In 1260 it was again destroyed by the Mongols. The remains of the original walls are still visible.
After Sidon came under Ottoman Turkish rule in the seventeenth century, it regained a great deal of its earlier commercial importance. After World War I it became part of the French Mandate of Lebanon. During World War II the city, together with the rest of Lebanon, was captured by British forces fighting against the Vichy French, and following the war it became a major city of independent Lebanon.
Following the Nakba in 1948, a considerable number of Palestinian refugees arrived in Sidon, as in other Lebanese cities, and were settled at the large refugee camps of Ein el-Hilweh and Mia Mia. At first these consisted of enormous rows of tents, but gradually houses were constructed. The refugee camps constituted de-fact neighborhoods of Sidon, but had a separate legal and political status which made them into a kind of enclaves. During the Israeli invasion in 1982, the city was subjected to aerial bombing, causing heavy casualties among the civilian population.