Today's title might sound like some kind of childhood game but it's actually the description of a small plot of land in central Beirut that for thousands of years has been given over to divine purpose.
Before the large, blue-domed Ottoman-style Mohammad al-Amiri Mosque that towers over Martyr’s Square was inaugurated in 2008, Beirut’s central mosque had for centuries been the graceful sandstone Omari, on the corner of Maarad and Weygand Street.
Although archaeological opinions differ, it’s possible that this particular piece of Beirut has been sacred ground of some kind or another since at least 240AD, when Phillip the Arab, one of three Roman emperors of Middle Eastern origin, commissioned a Temple of Jupiter for the city. Whether the temple stood precisely on this spot or just to one side of it is still a matter of academic debate, but columns and capitals from Phillip’s temple were integrated into the Omari’s construction and can be seen around its main courtyard.
One thing the world’s many faiths share in common is the desire to remake the buildings of previous religions so it is possible - though this is even more hotly debated - that before Phillip's temple, a Graeco-Phoenician temple to Zeus/Haddad, may have occupied the site.
Like Jupiter, Zeus and Haddad were the god(s) of storms and so if Phillip had the temple replaced, his act was less one of repurposing than of reorientation. If this timeline proves to be true, it is possible that deities of different kinds have been propitiated on the corner of today’s Maarad and Weygand streets for the better part of the last 5,000 years.
After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, Phillip’s temple was transformed into a church, though this was undertaken by the Byzantines, the ‘Eastern Romans’, who had ruled this half of the empire since the 4th Century.
In the middle of the 7th Century, Beirut fell to the Arab Conquest and the church was turned into a mosque, known then as the Futuh al-Islam, or the Conquests of Islam.
During the First Crusade in 1098, Beirut was captured by the Franks and was absorbed into the County of Tripoli. The mosque was repurposed and by 1110, the Crusaders had rebuilt it entirely as a cathedral dedicated to St. John the Baptist, patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller.
In 1187, the cathedral was briefly (re)converted into a mosque by the Kurdish conqueror, Salahadin Al Ayoubi, who took Beirut only to lose the city a decade later to England’s Richard the Lionheart, during the Third Crusade. In 1197, the mosque once again became a cathedral dedicated to St. John.
It is said that the Omari also housed another sacred relic. This was either a hair from the Prophet Mohammed’s beard or a lock of his hair, accounts vary. It was apparently on display in a chest kept in one of the mosque’s rooms until the start of the civil war in 1975. During the Israeli invasion in 1982, the chest is said to have disappeared and some years later, to have turned up in Turkey.
As to what became of it then, accounts again vary. According to some, the chest remained in Turkey and is on display somewhere in Istanbul. According to others, it was secretly purchased by Tripolitan billionaire and former prime minister, Najib Mikati, who brought the chest back to his hometown and hid it away. In either case, the whereabouts of the chest are as nebulous as the reason it disappeared in the first place.