Destinations, Lebanon, Photography

Wildflowers, Cherries, and a Sunset: Visiting the Qadisha Valley

August 23, 2012

Kahlil Gibran’s Back Yard: the Qadisha Valley, a spot of hidden peace and calming quiet just a few hours north of the horns-honking, sidewalks-crumbling city of Beirut.

The deeply carved landscape runs through the Becharre and Zgharta Districts in northern Lebanon, eventually spilling Qadisha River water into the Mediterranean Sea near the shores of Tripoli. Ted and I spent an afternoon scrambling along high paths and low river-valley trails with our new friend Madeleine then met up with her partner Jimmy to drive to the mountain pass and watch the blazing sun sink into the western haze.

Enjoy the snapshots from the day and a few notes peppered throughout.

Strap on mental  hiking shoes, imagine the sweat beads forming on the back of your neck, taste the hot, thick air, and be sure to watch for wildflowers…

We began our visit just a bit west of the village of Hasroun.

Madeleine drove us down narrow roads search of a rumored trail head, and after making an unannounced drop-in at the Patriarch’s House to (unsuccessfully) ask for directions, we happened upon our goal by chance: this gorgeous ancient tree and a little trail winding down through the grassy fields toward the hillsides dropping to the Valley far below.

Fearless, adventuring Madeleine: guide, good-sport, and all-around generous friend. An American living and working in the Middle East, putting her mind-power toward water and community development projects and taking weekends to explore the beautiful countryside.

You know these two!

We returned to the parked car at the base of the ancient tree, then maneuvered the windy drive through the village of Hasroun to the trail along the riverbed far below.

“Qadisha” means “Holy” in Aramaic. The significance of the rugged landscape reaches back through history to days when men and women sought shelter in the natural caves. Later, during early days of the Christian church, the first monastic orders built dwellings among the sheltered cliffs, and monasteries have been in continuous existence ever since.

Many of the caves in the Qadisha occupied by the Christian anchorites had been used in earlier as shelters and for burials, back as far as the Palaeolithic period. Since the early centuries of Christianity the Holy Valley served as a refuge for those in search of solitude. Syrian Maronites fled there from religious persecution from the late 7th century onwards, and this movement intensified in the 10th century following the destruction of the Monastery of St Marun. The Maronite monks established their new centre at Qannubin, in the heart of the Qadisha, and monasteries that combined eremitism with community life quickly spread over the surrounding hills.

At the end of the Crusades the Qadisha caves witnessed dramatic actions against their supporters, the Maronites. The Mameluk Sultans Baibars and Qalaoun led campaigns in 1268 and 1283 respectively against these fortress-caves and the surrounding villages. Despite these attacks, the Deir Qannubin monastery was to be become the seat of the Maronite Patriarch in the 15th century and to remain so for five hundred years. In the 17th century the Maronite monks’ reputation for piety was such that many European poets, historians, geographers, politicians, and clergy visited and even settled in the Qadisha.

The Holy Valley was, however, not merely the centre of the Maronites. Its rocky cliffs gave shelter to other Christian communities over the centuries – Jacobites (Syrian Orthodox), Melchites (Greek Orthodox), Nestorians, Armenians, even Ethiopians.
-Unesco World Heritage Centre


Mar Elisha Monastery tucked into the cliff-side of the Qadisha Valley

At the base of the Valley, the sun still shone hot. More flowers bloomed. More water fell.

More families enjoyed cheesy photos: some things cross all cultural boundaries.

Zebra striped buses and ubiquitous Pepsi bottles: surprises and predictions at the road’s end.

River-side hike complete, we reversed routes to the top of the Valley and rendezvoused with Jimmy in Hasroun.

A trip trip to the top of the pass to watch the sunset; complete with pit-stop for juicy roadside cherries along the way…

Racing the sunset to the top of the pass…
Cedars of Lebanon standing in groves…
Climbing higher and higher, above hills and farms and valleys, above thick air…

Top of the pass, Jimmy pulled wine and treats from the car and four new friends toasted the good and beautiful in the world.

Thanks to Madeleine & Jimmy for leading the way and showing us the world of Lebanon beyond the bounds of Beirut. And thanks to you, for reading along and seeing the world through this traveling lens…

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
-Kahlil Gibran

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  • Reply Raul (@ilivetotravel) August 23, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Wow, such beautiful scenery and well-captured with your photography! I love reading about the ancient history of the land – it blows my mind to think how that area has been at the crossroads of history since it has been recorded. I have always wanted to visit Lebanon but your post has created a better image of what I can expect to see than anything I had seen before about the country. Thanks, guys!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians August 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      I’m so happy to be able to share about our time in Lebanon – I had so few mental images before we arrived, and so many of our discoveries surprised me. It’s great to have these photos and tales now to share with others, to celebrate and demystify the people and the land. Thanks as always for reading along!

  • Reply Joel August 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    I love the pictures! Especially the last one. Also Ted in the wheat. Or whatever it is he’s in. As per usual I’m jealous.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians August 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      I’m rather fond of that last one myself ; ) And fond of Ted. And of wheat, for that matter. These are all good things.

  • Reply Jennifer August 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    I agree with Raul. You just don’t see or hear of many people traveling in Lebanon and it’s been really interesting to follow along with your travels there.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians August 24, 2012 at 9:20 pm

      Glad you’re enjoying the digital visit : )

  • Reply Payje August 24, 2012 at 12:25 am

    What a beautiful place! It just kept getting prettier as I read through the post… and cool flowers too, I really liked the pink wrinkly ones (I’m sure that’s not their technical name). As an archaeology nerd, I really appreciated the history lesson… how awesome to be somewhere with so much of the past still visible. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians August 24, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      Payje, thank you so much! I just loved seeing all of the beautiful things in bloom. It would’ve been cool to have you along to give your archaeology insights! I’m fascinated to think of all of the layers of history in that valley… Glad you enjoyed the photos : )

  • Reply Judy Loucks August 25, 2012 at 6:39 am

    LOVE the wrinkled, purple flowers!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians August 26, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Aren’t they pretty? Some sort of tenacious little wild rose… : )

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  • Reply Kathryn September 2, 2012 at 10:40 am

    How fascinating and beautiful! Wonderful photos.

  • Reply Heena Karani April 20, 2013 at 5:01 am

    Dear Bethany
    Wow beautiful pics of the valley
    I want to visit the place early May for 2-3 days , and would like your advice on how to plan a trip to the valley, and where to stay..also is a car required or is there public transportation to / from Beirut
    Smile Always

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