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Lebanon

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Qadisha Valley and Cedars Forest: A Natural & Spiritual Sanctuary

Known as the “Holy Valley,” the Qadisha has been a place of refuge for those fleeing religious persecution since the 5th century, and it houses some of the most important early Christian monastic settlements in the world. Rock-cut chapels, grottoes, and hermitages, many painted with frescoes dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, are tucked into the steep walls. Among the important monasteries located in the valley is Deir Qannoubine, the seat of the Maronite patriarchs from 1400-1790 AD. Seventeen Maronite patriarchs (the head of the Maronite church under the Pope in Rome) are buried in a chapel near the monastery, their names carved in Syrian script on a marble plaque identifying the site. Other notable Qadisha monasteries include Deir Mar Elisha, a 14th century hermitage where the Lebanese Maronite Order was founded in 1695, and Deir Mar Antonios Qozhaya, home to Lebanon’s first printing press in the 16th century.

High above the Qadisha Valley and the red-roofed village of Bcharré are the ancient Cedars of Lebanon. This small grove of Cedars, known as Arz Ar Rab (“Cedars of the Lord”), contains about 300 trees – all are at least 200 years old, and some are over 1,000 years old. These majestic trees stand as tall as 35 meters high, and their branches form a green canopy that is especially striking against a backdrop of winter snow.

Lebanon’s cedars were highly prized in ancient times for their use in the construction of great palaces and religious buildings, such as Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and the temple of Seti I in Thebes (Luxor, Egypt). The Phoenicians exported cedar wood to kingdoms throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East regions for use in temples, palaces, and shipbuilding and for funerary purposes in Egypt (building of sarcophagi and use of cedar oil for mummification).

 

Cedar forests once blanketed Lebanon, and the tree stands as a symbol of the country itself. However, following centuries of deforestation, there are only a few highly protected reserves of cedars remaining. In addition to the small cedar grove near Bcharré, there are six cedar forests within the large Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve; a large forest of trees in Tannourine; and smaller, less accessible groves in the Horsh Ehden Reserve, near the town of Hadeth al-Jubbeh, and in Jaj (near Laqlouq).

 

The Qadisha Valley and Cedars region is a prime destination for nature enthusiasts, with abundant opportunities for hiking and trekking, mountain climbing, caving and other natural exploration. In the wintertime, the nearby Cedars Ski Resort, along with the other resorts in the northern Mount Lebanon region, are popular destinations for skiing and winter sports. The small, picturesque villages surrounding the upper rim of the Qadisha Valley offer a glimpse of traditional Lebanese village life, cuisine, and cultural and religious traditions. The Qadisha is also the home of the famed Lebanese poet and artist Khalil Gibran.

 

 

 

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