Monday, November 28, 2022

Byblos. The World’s Most Ancient Port

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Major winter exhibition at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities

On 14 October 2022, the major exhibition ‘Byblos. The World’s Most Ancient Port’ will open at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden (RMO; the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities).

The rich history of Byblos, a town situated on the coast of present-day Lebanon, began around 6500 BC with a simple fishing village that would grow into a prosperous city. Around 3000 BC, Byblos played an extraordinary role in the Mediterranean and Middle East as the world’s first international seaport, thanks to the trade in cedar wood.

Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans left their mark on the city. The exhibition will present around 500 highlights from museums including the National Museum of Beirut, the Louvre and the British Museum, bearing witness to this archaeological and cultural richness. From simple fish hooks, anchors and clay tablets to golden weapons, colourful gemstone jewellery, a Roman mosaic and a bronze statue of Heracles.

A key role is played by the kings, mythological heroes, merchants and fortune-seekers who visited and lived in Byblos. Particularly important were the city’s special ties with Egypt and the goddess known as the ‘Lady of Byblos’.

The exhibition will run until 12 March 2023. Information and ticket reservations are available at www.rmo.nl/byblos.

Millennia of world history and culture

For millennia, Byblos was the chief purveyor to the pharaohs and the most important trade hub in the Mediterranean. Byblos’ wealth arose 5,000 years ago through trade with Egypt, among others, in products of the cedar tree from the mountains behind the city. These trees were famous for their straight trunks, which could reach 40 metres in height.

The cedar wood and other precious materials from the Middle East, such as silver, wine, and oil found their way to Egypt from Byblos. Byblos received precious stones, gold, linen and elephant ivory in return from Egypt and subsequently traded them with cities in Mesopotamia.

Good administration was indispensable for trade on such a large scale. It thus comes as no surprise that the precursor of our alphabet was developed in Byblos.

Byblos bronze figurines © DGA Beirut

On display in Leiden

The exhibition is bringing together the most beautiful artefacts from Byblos. The display includes finds from the royal tombs and the temples of Byblos, figurines of gods and goddesses, richly decorated weapons and jewellery. The distinctive bronze figurines of warriors, gods and animals, of which some 1,700 have been found in Byblos, are especially striking. The exhibition is presented as a storybook, in which famous stories from Antiquity are set in the port, palaces and cedar forests of Byblos. For example, the Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh went to the Lebanese mountains to cut down cedar trees and the Egyptian goddess Isis brought her deceased lover Osiris back to life in Byblos.

The exhibition is presented as a succession of pop-ups with ships, cedar trees and mythological creatures, striking images in silhouette, and sets of drawings of famous stories. The ancient port city takes shape in large projected 3D reconstructions and drone shots of the excavated ruins, supplemented with historical photos of the first excavations in the early twentieth century. These days, the ancient city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Archaeological research is still ongoing. Finds from an elite burial complex recently excavated by the Lebanese Ministry of Culture/Directorate General of Antiquities and the Louvre will be on display in Leiden, with spectacular images of the excavation site.

‘Byblos’ is the fourth exhibition in the RMO-series on key cities of Antiquity, following Leiden’s crowd-pullers Petra (2013-2014), Carthage (2014-2015) and Nineveh (2017-2018).

Partnerships and acknowledgements

The exhibition was developed in partnership with the Lebanese Ministry of Culture/Directorate General of Antiquities. Through this partnership, the RMO is supporting the construction of a new archaeological museum and cultural centre at the historical site of Byblos.

This museum will open to the public in the spring of 2023. The exhibition was developed with the support of the Blockbusterfonds and the VriendenLoterij, with thanks to the Lebanese Embassy (The Hague), the Dutch Embassy (Beirut) and Labrys Reizen.

Extra

The exhibition is accompanied by a book for the general public (in Dutch, ISBN 978-94-6426-137-0, 145 pages, €24.95), a scholarly publication with articles by more than thirty international specialists (in English, ISBN 9789464261349, 280 pages, €50; €40 in RMO Museumshop), and an RMO Magazine (in Dutch, €3.50). There are also free audio tours for adults and children (Dutch/English), and a programme including guided tours, talks, extra (children’s) activities during the school holidays and an academic conference (to be held on 9 December 2022).

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