Arqa looks like any other attractive village in the Akkar district, but in fact it possesses a special treasure – a tell or flat-topped hill. Many such tells are scattered around Lebanon, and most have ancient settlements buried beneath them. The tell at Arqa was no exception.
Starting in 1972 a team of French archeologists led by Prof. E. Will, former Director of the French Institute of the Near Eastern Archaeology, then by Dr. Jean-Paul Thalmann, has been at work here. So far they have found over five thousand years of history on this one spot.
The earliest level dates to the Neolithic period or New Stone Age (6,000 years ago). After that, people of the Early Bronze Age settled here. These were Canaanites — later known as Phonecians–who developed a prosperous town at the Arqa site.
Arqa, which was known as Irqata in antiquity, was so important that it was mentioned during the 14th Century B.C. in the Egyptian Annals, and specially in the Tell al-Amarna Letters, found in Egypt. It was also mentioned many times in the Assyrian Annals and in the Bible. All these references provided clues to the city’s history.
During the Hellenistic Period (3rd-1st century B.C.) the people of Arqa were apparently successful traders and the city grew crowded and prosperous.
A Roman Emperor Born in Lebanon
When the Romans ruled the Mediterranean area short time later, Arqa was called “Caesarea of Lebanon”or Arca Caesarea. Roman Arqa is also the birthplace of the Emperor Alexander Severus. Ruling from Rome between 222 and 235 A.D., Serverus turned out to be quite a successful emperor.
It is mentioned in Antiquity in the Amarna letters of Egypt Amarna letters of Egypt as Irqata , as well as in Assyrian documents.
At the time of the First Crusade , Arqa became an important strategic point of control over the roads from Tripoli to Tartus and Homs. Raymond de Toulouse unsuccessfully besieged it for three months in 1099. In 1108, his nephew William II Jordan conquered it and it became part of the County of Tripoli.
It finally fell to Muslim forces of the Sultan Baibers in 1265 or 1266. When Tripoli itself fell in 1289 to the army of Sultan Qalawun and was razed to the ground, Arqa lost its strategic importance and thereafter is mentioned only in ecclesiastical chronicles.