It’s All in the Foundation: Byblos

Our trip to the Providence Public Library, and especially the hard hat tour, had me realize how much work goes into constructing a building. It takes practically a village to complete this production, hiring people with a wide array of skills to ensure the final product is safe, efficient, and aesthetic. Curious to see their vision for the Library, I browsed the PPL’s website and found an illustrated image as to what they hope the renovated building will look like. Having only seen the rough skeleton of the building, with steel pillars and plastic caution tape covering the area, it is incredibly difficult to even imagine that this construction site will transform into the beautiful, imagined vision in only a few months time. Similarly, only having available of what Byblos looks like now in modern day, with hardly any complete ruins to work off of, it is equally as challenging to envision what the palace might have looked like back in the Middle Bronze Age. With this being said, I’m going to have to rely on other Levantine structures, in addition to the Tell el-Burak, the only other excavated palace in Lebanon, to aid me in making my own decisions. Moreover, there was a strong Egyptian influence on the city of Byblos, and perhaps by exploring their palaces, I will have a better idea of what needs to be included in my design. Taking inspiration from other surrounding structures, I plan on analyzing their floor plans and layouts, in addition to the materials and objects found inside, to create a structure with similar, but unique, features. However, before diving into the details of the insides of the palace such as deciding whether or not there were columns or what kind of wall art it had, I must be able to visualize the outline of the structure. In turn, completing the silhouette of my palace will not only allow me to further explore the internal aspects of the structure, like the kind of art and furniture that would have been seen, but it will also give rise to analysis of the other sensory and experiential elements: movement, sound, light, atmosphere.

the current status of library (construction)

the illustrated vision for renovated library

One architectural feature that was consistently stressed during our tour was the open-aired aspect of this newly renovated library. Prior to the construction, the PPL was historically known to be incredibly private and exclusive, standing tall with ornate decorations that only gave a taste to the public of the kind of wealth and high class, educational activities that went on behind the walls. In an attempt to make it more welcoming and inclusive, the architects have now designed the library so that glass paneling along the walls line up and allow anyone from the road to see all the way into the building, and notice the seemingly enjoyable times people inside are having. This technique was an intentional way to grab the intrigue and attention of outsiders, and perhaps convince them to join. As a connection to Byblos, I’m sure the architects who initially built the palace had similar ideas running through their minds. Given that this was still an active palace many centuries ago, the architectural layout was probably still done in a way to have the structure protected from the outside, as any building housing a person of importance must have a degree of seclusion for both the safety, and status, of the royalty. However, on the flip side, I don’t think the entirety of the palace would have been covered. As its main purpose was probably not defense, with the Crusader’s Citadel in near proximity, perhaps the majority of the space was open, incorporating the courtyard as a central focus to encourage unity and community gatherings. And, while there would of course be private rooms for various activities, maybe the doors would align so that when they were all opened, one could easily see beyond just one room and be able to walk through with access. My biggest source of inspiration comes from the known floorplan of Tell el-Burak. The authors comment on the set-up, explaining: “The Middle Bronze building consists of rooms arranged around an inner rectangular courtyard located in the center of the building. The courtyard floor was made of light, white lime, on which rows of a flat pebble pavement were laid in order to create pathways” (Sader and Kamlah 2010, 135). Seen below, the layout of Tell el-Burak is constructed around the courtyard, and all rooms are connected in straight, vertical paths.  

open-aired space the PPL is trying to implement throughout the entire building

floorpan of Tell el-Burak and movement (as envisioned by me)

In order to determine the kinds of spaces that potentially existed, I found it helpful to read Holly Winters’ article on three different Southern Levantine palaces and the influence of the Egyptian empire on their structures. She states that these “palaces [were] characterized by a number of features, including large stone foundations, walls thicker than one meter, extensive group plans, and abundant and varied exotica” (Winter 2016, 35). I went through her descriptions of the three chosen palaces and made a chart to organize the similarities and differences. In doing so, I now have a better idea of what to include in my own design, most notably the type of material to build with (mud brick) and number of rooms (definitely more than 15).

the three palaces in Southern Levant circled in near proximity to Byblos

Although only a start, I think having the foundational aspects of my building will allow the rest of the process to flow with ease. I hope to now begin exploring the types of rooms and what kind of wall art I want to include, accrediting most of the inside details to Egyptian influence.

Claire Szapary

Winter, H. (2016) The Effects of the Egyptian Empire on Palatial Structures of the Middle and Late Bronze Age Southern Levant. Dig It, Journal of the Flinders Archaeological Society, (3): 34-41.

Sader, H. and J. Kamlah (2010) Tell el-Burak: A new Middle Bronze Age Site from Lebanon. Near Eastern Archaeology 73(2):130-141