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.