A day trip to Saida
Located at approx. 50 km south of Beirut is the ancient town of Saida (Sidon). Together with Byblos and Trye, Sidon was the third largest and most important city state of the Phoenicians. Many civilizations have conquered and occupied the town, leaving their traces.
Approaching Saida on the motorway, the first thing you see is the Castel of the Sea, a cruisader castle built by the Knights of St. John in the 13th century. Situated on a tiny island, you can walk towards the castle over a narrow causeway, then climb around and enjoy fabulous views from one of the towers. Entrance fee is 4000 LL (approx. $3).
Cross over the road and head towards the old town of Saida, the medina which is entirely covered. Arched alleys and walkways, several levels only accessible over ladders, the medina is an exceptional sight.
Shops and workshops are squeezed into tiny niches in the structure, giving the impression of caves. The medina is of course inhabited and the souks are very lively.
A highlight is the Soap Museum. Once a working factory to produce the famous soap of Saida, it has been restored and transformed by the Audi family of Beirut into a thematic museum which illustrates the process of soap making. Ingredient typical for the area are olive oil, laurel oil and perfumes extrcated from trees in Turkey and Syria. Bars of soad a piled high in the form of towers to facilitate the drying of the soap. Exhibits show the molds used to form the bars as well as the impliments and furnaces. A shop sells a great variety of products, not only soap and lotions but also towels and robes.
Leaving the museum and delving further into the maze you find an Ottoman palace, the Palais Debbane. It’s a prime example of arab-ottoman architecture and decorations, wedged into the entire structure of the medina, but surprisingly large on the inside. You can climb three stories up to the roof and get an overview of the lay -out of the old town. The wood carved ceilings, furniture and carpets should not be missed.
Mosques, churches, workshops, bakeries and shops all constitute the every day life of the medina and hours can be spend just meandering through the souk, enjoying new aspects and views at every twist and turn.
Saida is a fishing town and there are several restaurants near the castle located on permanently moored boats where you can enjoy a meal of fresh fish.