The Medieval Heritage of Anfeh and its Region (North Lebanon). The Results of the Archaeological Mission of the University of Balamand

The Lebanese coastal town of Anfeh sits 15 km to the south of the city of Tripoli. The archaeological investigations conducted there since 2011 by the Department of Archaeology and Museology (DAM) of the University of Balamand under the directorship of Dr. Nadine Panayot-Haroun have concentrated on the town and its region, and particularly on the sector of Ras al Qalaat, a long rocky peninsula covering an area of about 3.3 ha. Other smaller sites in the area have been surveyed and excavated as well, namely Saydet el Rih chapel, Mar ‘Abda, Tallet Mar Antonios, Tallet Mssaïkeh, El Hraisheh, El Kharayeb, Mar Edna, Saint Marina in Qalamoun, and the monastery of Balamand in Qalhat (Panayot-Haroun N. et al., in press).

The history of Anfeh reveals it to be a remarkable settlement in the region; it is now clearly attested that the site was occupied mainly in prehistoric times, from the Lower Paleolithic to the Chalcolithic, the Bronze Age, and later in the Byzantine and Crusader periods. Indeed, the region in general shows a very dense occupation spanning the complete prehistoric sequence, from the Lower Paleolithic to the Neolithic. The survey undertaken by Dirk Leder (in press) recorded some twenty sites, both open-air as well as caves and rock shelters. In addition, the archaeological excavations have revealed evidence on the peninsula of two jar burials from the Chalcolithic period. Pottery from the Bronze Age, and especially the early Bronze Age, has been uncovered, although without any architectural features associated with it. These last remains correspond to the period when Anfeh appears for the first time in historical literature. Indeed, the Tell Amarna letters from the 14th C. BC cite Anfeh six times under the name of Ambi. In the Iron Age, Anfeh is mentioned only once, in the 7th C. BC, under the name of Ampa by the Assyrian king Assarhaddon (Panayot-Haroun 2015). However almost no archaeological evidence has been recorded as dating back to this period, with the exception of some water cisterns on the site of Saydet el Rih and a few potsherds on the peninsula itself. So far, we have not identified any remnants of Anfeh from the Hellenistic period aside from a few potsherds at Ras al Qalaat. Roman-period remains also come in the form of potsherds, collected in several areas. The picture changes completely around the 5th and 6th C.  as shown by the ceramic material retrieved from various sites. Most importantly, the peninsula and Saydet el Rih areas have revealed abundant remains, namely a network of cisterns and water reservoirs, several mosaic pavements, and some features seemingly linked to an artisanal production, undetermined as yet (Panayot-Haroun 2015).

During the medieval period, according to written sources, Anfeh was conquered by the Frankish armies, likely around 1109, in the aftermath of the fall of the city of Tripoli. Nephin, as it was then called, became a lordship of the county of Tripoli with the town Tripoli being the main political and economic center. At the outset, Anfeh possibly belonged to the Genoese crusaders. In the second part of the 12th C. it was ruled by an illustrious French family, the Raynouard. Then, in 1205, the Count of Tripoli, Bohemond IV, took over the lordship. From 1276 until 1282, it was in the hands of another Count of Tripoli, Bohemond VII. Finally, by the end of the 13th C. it seems that the Hospitallers had become the masters of the place. The last episode of its medieval history is related to the Mamluk conquest of Tripoli and its region in 1289 (Antaki-Masson, in press). Anfeh was abandoned until it reappeared in Ottoman-period documentary sources as a modest village. The archaeological data uncovered sheds light on this period.

Fig. 1. Plan of the medieval remains on the Anfeh peninsula (DAM Mission)

The peninsular fortress

The fortress of Anfeh was erected in the Crusader period. It is mentioned in two pilgrims’ accounts as well as in two siege accounts, in 1205 and in 1276–1282. Later sources inform us that the Mamluks dismantled most of it (Chaaya 2016). The stronghold was built on the peninsula itself. Its surviving remains are of two types. The first type consists of modest sections of the massive enclosure and tower walls still standing in several spots (Fig. 1). The walls are massive, about three meters thick. The outer facing is built with impressive ashlars, which measure up to 1.74 by 1.06 m and are characterized by typical flat bosses and drafted margins. These blocks were extracted from the ditches themselves where extraction marks are still visible. The inner wall facing is made of medium-sized ashlars. As for the infill, it is composed of rubble and mortar that is red in color. At the western end of the peninsula, a portion of the core of the fortification wall still stands at the substantial height of about 6 m. In addition, one can still observe the imprint of this masonry in the bedrock, running along the edge of the peninsula. The presence of several towers can be inferred by some of the rock traces as well. The second type of evidence consists of three impressive parallel ditches that isolated the citadel from the mainland. The first one, the most conspicuous feature of the site, is the most regular and is equipped with a drawbridge pier still standing at its southern end. The second has not been fully excavated. The third and westernmost one is still almost completely filled. These ditches are cut into solid limestone and are about 10 m wide and 70 m long, which corresponds to the width of the peninsula at this place. They are cut at sea-level which hints at their possible use as water-filled ditches (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. The easternmost ditch and its bridge pier, filled with water (DAM Mission)

In addition to these features, excavations have revealed a heap of spherical stone projectiles of different sizes (and therefore different weights) employed in the so-called trebuchets, the powerful siege engines of that time.

Within the stronghold area, evidence of a domestic occupation comprises remains of walls which constitute complete or almost complete rooms, sometimes as large as 14 × 6 m. The walls are about 40 to 60 cm thick and are built of limestone or sandstone blocks or a mixture of both. The rooms are in some cases fitted with an entrance. The majority of the uncovered floors are plastered and some are laid on a bedding of flattened stones. A built-up vaulted cistern cut into the rock was identified as well (Panayot-Haroun, in press).

Varied artisanal activities

Several contemporary artisanal activities are also attested on the peninsula. One of these is dedicated to olive oil production, as revealed by three almost complete oil press installations (approximately 5 × 5 meters each) of the lever and screw press type, as well as scattered oil press elements (Figs. 1 and 3). These installations consist of rooms either hollowed into the bedrock or built-up or a combination of both techniques. Two of them still house a crushing basin in the middle with two pressing surfaces on each side. Two of them display the niches where the wooden beams would have been anchored. One of them has retained its two screw weights and remains of the collecting vats, and another one has kept its two pressing beds and their associated vats (Fisher-Genz & Nordiguian 2010).

Fig. 3. Plan of one of the oil presses (DAM Mission)

The production of wine seems also to have been an important activity of Anfeh, as attested both by texts and archaeology. Indeed, on one hand, contemporary visitors praise the good quality of this beverage and, on the other hand, excavations have yielded wine jars, recognizable by a hole pierced at the bottom of their neck (Fig. 4). Although some of these were imported from Beirut, the possibility of a local manufacture is still under examination.

Fig. 4. Pierced wine jar (DAM Mission)

The possible presence of a third production, namely sugar, is hinted at by the discovery of the specific vessels used during the process of sugar crystallization, although in very small numbers. These are the upper conical sugar molds that were pierced at the bottom and the molasses jars placed underneath them. This production comes as no surprise as the whole Tripolitan area was known at that period for its sugar-cane plantations and sugar production (Ouerfelli 2008).

Finally, pottery workshops appear to have existed in Anfeh as revealed by the presence of kiln bars used as supports for vessels, tripod stilts used as spacers, and biscuit-fired bowls.

The archaeological material

The vast majority of the archaeological material consists of ceramics, with a few other finds including coins and pilgrim badges. All of the sites excavated and surveyed in the region have yielded abundant pottery, the vast majority of which has been dated to the 13th C. The bulk of the material retrieved from the peninsula was also assigned to this period, with the exception of a very few vessels dating to the Fatimid period and others to the Mamluk period. The Frankish pottery consists of tableware, mostly glazed. The decorations are monochromes and polychromes as well sgraffito (Fig. 5). The repertoire includes plates, bowls, jugs, and table amphorae. Most of them were either imported from Beirut or from other places such as St John of Acre, Al Mina, or Port Saint Symeon, Cyprus, Constantinople, the Aegean region, and Italy. The common ware also consists of a variety of shapes: amphorae, jars, lids, and pithoi. Cooking ware is essentially made of cooking pots and frying pans originating from Beirut workshops. In most cases, the pots are glazed on the inside (Homsy-Gottwalles 2016).

Fig. 5. Figurative decoration on a glazed sgraffito bowl from Al Mina (DAM Mission)

Oil lamps are also part of the finds. Those found on the peninsula belong to the 12th–13th C. saucer type with a pinched nozzle in front and a handle at the back and, inside, a dome-shaped reservoir for oil with a filling hole at the top and a wick hole. As for those found on the Saydet el Rih chapel site, they belong to a type common in the Mamluk period, consisting of bowls with pinched rims, either equipped on the inside with a small ring instead of a real reservoir, or lacking any feature. Some of these lamps are glazed (Homsy-Gottwalles 2016).

A few coins were also documented on several of the sites at Anfeh. These were minted under the rule of Raymond III of Tripoli at the end of the 12th C. Some bear a tower on the obverse and a cross with dots and crescents on the reverse. Others display an eight-pointed star on the obverse and a tower on the reverse.

Among the finds a few pierced scallop shells were recorded. They were traditionally worn as protective badges by pilgrims who had visited the site of Santiago de Compostela (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Pierced scallop shell (DAM Mission)

An abundance of churches

In respect to the medieval religious monuments of Anfeh, about ten churches and monasteries survive. Those which can be safely assigned to the Crusader period are the following: the church of Saint Catherine, which displays typical Western Romanesque features; the chapel of Saydet el Rih or Our Lady of the Winds, built on an older Byzantine chapel and featuring frescoes on its walls; and the church of Saints Michael and Simeon, rebuilt in the Ottoman period but which retains traces betraying Frankish origins. Other probable/possible churches or chapels are: Mar Edna, Saydet el Kharayeb, Saint John the Baptist monastery, the chapel of Deir el Ahmar in Chrabaa, and surely many others. In addition to these, we can safely assume that there was a chapel inside the castle itself. In close proximity to Anfeh, contemporary religious monuments can be found, such as the rock-shelter of Saint Marina in Qalamoun, the monastery of Balamand or Belmont founded by the Cistercian community in the 12th C., and the church of Saint Barbara in Barghoun.


In conclusion, our investigations have allowed a new and deeper significant insight into the medieval chapter of the long history of Anfeh, and more particularly into the advent of the Crusaders in the 12th and 13th C. The overall picture that emerges from this brief survey is that of a densely occupied and active lordship of the county of Tripoli. The town appears to be well defended with a notable fortress erected on the peninsula, sheltering a large settlement, and fitted with local workshops producing olive oil, pottery, and possibly other products such as sugar and wine. Various places of worship, from rock-shelter oratories to churches and monasteries, were also part of the landscape. Many questions and enigmas still await resolution: an exciting challenge that the DAM team is doing its best to meet.


Antaki-Masson P., (in press), “L’époque médiévale : la ville franque de Néphin (XIIe–XIIIe siècles)”, in Mission archéologique d’Enfeh-Liban. Valoriser et préserver : les enjeux d’un défi scientifique. Volume I : prospections et études ethnographiques. BAH.

Chaaya A., 2016, “Le château médiéval d’Enfeh”, BAAL VI, 281–283.

FisherGenz B. & Nordiguian L., 2010, “An Olive Pressing Installation on the Peninsula of Anfeh, Lebanon”, Tempora 19, 79–87.

Homsy-Gottwalles G., 2016, “The Medieval and Ottoman Periods at Saydet el-Rih Anfeh, (Lebanon): ceramic evidence”, Berytus LVI, 313–349.

Leder D., (in press), “Anfeh prehistoric survey 2015”, in Mission archéologique d’Enfeh-Liban. Valoriser et préserver : les enjeux d’un défi scientifique. Volume I : prospections et études ethnographiques. BAH.

Ouerfelli M., 2008, Le sucre : production, commercialisation et usages dans la Méditerranée médiévale, Leyden, Brill.

Panayot-Haroun N., 2015, “Anfeh unveiled: Historical background, ongoing research and future prospects”, Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies 3 (4), 396–415.

Panayot-Haroun N. et al., 2016, “Mission archéologique d’Enfeh. Résultats préliminaires des travaux de prospection et de fouille de 2011 à 2015”, BAAL VI, 255–294.

Panayot-Haroun N. et al., (in press), in Mission archéologique d’Enfeh-Liban. Valoriser et préserver : les enjeux d’un défi scientifique. Volume I : prospections et études ethnographiques. BAH.

Patricia Antaki is a PhD medieval archaeologist and director of the Department of Archaeology and Museology of the University of Balamand in North Lebanon. Her research interests and publications are mostly related to the archaeology of the Crusader period in Lebanon and the Levantine region. These include studies of Frankish settlements, examinations of fortifications and investigations of churches and monasteries. Her field of research also covers various aspects of the material culture of the Crusades.


This blog article is based on a lecture given by the author for the Ifpo’s Webinar entitled “Archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa from Late Antiquity to the Ottoman Period. First Series: Lebanon and Jordan” organized between January and December 2021 by the Ifpo (Julie Bonnéric & Valentina Vezzoli):

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Patricia Antaki (2021, 16 août). The Medieval Heritage of Anfeh and its Region (North Lebanon). The Results of the Archaeological Mission of the University of Balamand. Les carnets de l’Ifpo. Consulté le 18 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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