What a Real Caliphate Looks Like

April 3, 2015


What a Real Caliphate Looks Like

walking along flowers

Back to Beirut

It’s been three eventful years to the week since my first reluctant departure from Lebanon, the country that has become my second home. Between then and now I’ve had a little memoir’s worth of travel experiences I never anticipated, some of which may be useful to you: the tourist, the student, the political scientist, the global citizen. Having returned to Lebanon, this week’s anniversary was the opportune moment for me to restart my Beirut-based blog and write the post that I always intended to publish, but never did. For my last trip before leaving in 2012, I made sure to visit the ancient site of Anjar in the Beqaa Valley. Little did I know how its ruins would become so much more significant yet increasingly inaccessible.

A Lesson from History

In the village of Anjar along Lebanon’s Eastern border lays the world’s largest Umayyad ruin. The Umayyad civilization may be relatively unknown in the west but it was once a vast empire that stretched from the Indus Valley to southern France. Their empire is remembered most as the first Islamic Caliphate, starting in 661 AD. That year also marked the death of the last “rightly guided” caliph who was one of four imams that have become highly venerated in Sunni Islamic discourse. Therefore, it is to the era of Anjar that the Islamic extremist movement pledges to return the modern world. Today ISIS and the Nusra Front are perched on Syrian territory just outside the village border, reportedly in anticipation of a “decisive battle” in Lebanon, as soon as the weather heats up.

Based on their track record of caring for priceless ruins, they hardly deserve to command such a treasure of world history. For example, the great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the Caliphate’s former capital city, went up in flames during fighting between the Syrian military and rebel forces. The burial site of biblical prophet Jonah was bombed by ISIS in Iraq. It’s hard to imagine that the Umayyad’s would recognize the “Islamic State” as a state at all (they still don’t have their own currency). But these radicals should consider some of the lessons of Anjar’s past, albeit from a distance. The Umayyad’s brought upon themselves their own downfall, appointing incompetent rulers, monopolizing religious authority and over extending themselves in war. Anjar today is a grand ruin, but a ruin nonetheless.


It’s not often archeologists stumble upon an entire lost city and when they do their findings can be astonishing. 1,300 years ago Anjar was a strategic city on an important trade route connecting areas north and south and its remains reflect its commercial spirit. A whopping six hundred shops, three palaces, two hamamms and a handful of souks have all been identified. The dynasties rulers would use the city as a summer resort during hunting excursions. Due to these reasons UNESCO designated Anjar as one of Lebanon’s five World Heritage Sites. Had Anjar been located on the Syrian side of the eastern mountains, this relic of the past may have been lost forever.

out of the woods

Anjar ruins 1

Down the path

Spraling two copy copy

inner arches


Spralling City

Anjar Pano

Walking in Ruins

into the woods saturation

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2 Comments on “What a Real Caliphate Looks Like”

  1. zekelegge2 Says:

    Thank you for posting this it inspired me as a student 🙂


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