The ancient Phoenician town of Saida, aka Sidon, is located a short 30 minute ride down the coast from Beirut. As with many of our adventures in Lebanon, the trip itself was half the fun. We took a cab to COLA, the “bus terminal” used to connect with towns south of Beirut. Terminal is not the correct word for this disorganized transportation hub.
It is more of a hectic intersection with buses and vans sitting along the curb waiting for riders. After getting out of the cab that took us to COLA the driver of a van rolled along side and asked if we were going to Saida. At only 2000LL ($1.33) per person we hopped in. For the next ten minutes we sat or rolled along the road as the driver or associate on the street yelled, “Saida, Saida, Saida, Saida” in an attempt to find other passengers. Eventually he had a mostly full load and decided it was time to begin the trip.
We trolled for passengers for a few more minutes and pulled off the highway several times to attempt to pick up others. In spite of all this we arrived in Saida within 40 minutes of our taking seats in the van.
Our first stop was The Sea Castle, a crusader castle that sits in the city harbor. This small castle was first built in 1228 and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. No signage or guides allowed us to create our own stories of its past as we wandered the interior of the castle.
We found the souks in Saida to be larger than we had expected. This was the heart of medieval Saida and like all other souks is a labyrinthine of alleyways and shops. Cobblers, pastry shops, coffee shop, woodworkers and other merchants are all found in the narrow passageways of Saida’s souks.We stumbled upon a small area that housed an 8th century (so the sign said) stone and masonry church set amongst a residential area that was just beautiful in its simplicity.
We were told to be sure to visit the soap museum, and it did not disappoint. The exhibits were well presented with clear explanations of the soap making process. A video showing the modern day process was interesting as well. After the purchase of a few bars of cinammon and rose scented soaps we headed back to the bus for our ride back to Beirut.