Simply known as The Cedars”, this resort settlement is in Lebanon’s highest range is one of the most dramatically beautiful spots in the country. Its centerpiece is an ancient grove of cedars, are three synonyms for millennia with Lebanon itself. Just below the Cedar is the town of Basharre, birth place of Gibran Khalil Gibran.
The most exiting way to get to The Cedars is from Deir al Ahmar in the Beqaa valley. The road snakes the bare eastern slopes of Mount Lebanon presenting marvelous views at a very turn. As you get higher, the air grows crisp and snow patches streak the hollows. At the crest you look down the other side into a gigantic bowl where the ski resort, the cedar grove and the Qadisha gorge lie before you in a wide – angle panorama. Plan this route in summer or fall because snow closes the pass in winter.
A more direct way to The Cedars is from Chekka (south of Tripoli) to Bsharre. Two roads lead from Bsharre village to the Cedars, about seven kilometers up the mountain. The older road, known for its hairpin curves, leads past the entrance path of the Qadisha grotto. The new road, with more gentle engineering, is kept clear in winter for pain free ascent. Whichever way you take, the vistas are beautiful, especially when fog rises from the valley. You first arrive at a large assortment of hotels, chalets, night clubs and restaurants, which thought not a village, do form a community of residents, visitors and local proprietors.
About a kilometer further on is the famous cedar grove where the road is lined with the inevitable souvenir stands and small restaurants. The same road continues to the ski area at 2,066 meters and goes over the mountain and down into the Beqaa valley.
The Cedar is a resort for all seasons. In summer the high elevation makes it a wonderful escape from the humid coast while I winter skiing is the favorite activity.
[nextpage title=”THE CEDARS IN HISTORY”]
As remote as they are, the cedars are no untouched by history. The grove we see today descends from an immense primavera forest cedar and others trees such as cypress, pine and oak that once covered most of Mount Lebanon including part of its east facing slopes.
The Cedar is an historical entity mentioned often in the Bible and other ancient texts and it played an important in the culture, trade and religious observances of the ancient Middle East. Serious exploitation of these forests began in the third millennium B.C., with coastal towns such as Byblos growing wealthy from the timber trade with Egypt. Over the centuries, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians made expeditions to Mount Lebanon form timber of extracted tributes of wood form the coastal cities of Canaan Phoenician. The Phoenician themselves made use of the cedar, especially for their merchant fleets. Solomon requested large supplies of cedar wood, along with architects and builders from king Hiram of Tyre to build his temple. Nebuchadnezzar boasted in a cuneiform inscription: “I brought for building, mighty cedars, which a cut down with my pure hands on Mount Lebanon.”
Prized for its fragrance and durability, the length of the great logs, made cedar wood especially desirable. Cedar was important for cedar shipbuilding and was used for the roofs of temples, to construct tombs and other major buildings. The Egyptian used cedar resin for mummification and pith was extracted from these trees for waterproofing and caulking.
In the second century A.D., The Roman Emperor Hadrian attempted to protect the forest with boundary markers, most carved in living rock, others in the form of separate engraved stones. Today over 200 such markers have been recorded, allowing scholars to make an approximate reconstruction of the ancient forest boundaries. Two of these markers, carved in abbreviated Latin, can bee seen at the American university of Beirut museum.
In the centuries after Hadrian, Lebanon’s trees were used extensively as fuel, especially for lime burning kilns. In the middle ages mountain villagers cleared forest for farmland, using the wood to fuel and construction. The Ottomans in the 19th century destroyed much of the forest cover and during World War II British troops used the wood to build a railroad between Tripoli and Haifa.
[nextpage title=”THE CEDAR TREE ITSELF”]
Of the immense history only insolate patches of cedars are found in Lebanon today. Growing at high elevations, often in craggy difficult to reach locations, these majestic trees still stir the imagination. In the north of the country, stands of cedars grow in the Horsh Ehden Nature near Hadeth al-Jubbej, whose shape has been changed by trimming, and the cedars near Tannourine.
In Jaj near Laqloup insolates specimens of cedars are still scattered on the rocky peaks above the town. Deep in the Shouf district on top of Mount Barouk, cedars some 350 years old grow in an enclosed grove. These trees, which are in pristine condition, can be easily admired from outside the protective wall. Above the town of Maaser esh-Shouf, there is another cedar forest known as Arz el- Rab or Cedars of the Lord, which has an extended view of the Beqaa valley. Cedars trees also grow nearby Ain Zhalta. The most famous cedars are those of Bsharre. Only this grow, the oldest in Lebanon, gives an accurate idea of the stature and magnificence these trees attained in antiquity. About 375 cedars of great age stand in a sheltered glacis pocket of Mount Makmel. Four of them, many hundreds years old, have reach a height of 35 meters and their trunks are between 12 and 14 meters around. They have straight trunks and strong branches that spread their regular horizontal boughs like fans. Also among the inhabitants of the forest are some thousand young trees, plated in recent decades to ensure the future of this national resource, the slow growing cedar, whit its long span, requires at least 40 years before it can even produce fertile seeds. Like any other treasure of great antiquity, the Basharre cedar grove requires special care and protection. Concern for this modern remnant of historic cedars goes back to 1876 when the 102 hectare grove was surrounded by a high stone wall. Financed by Great Britain’s queen Victoria, the walls protect against one of the cedar’s natural enemies, the goat that enjoy feasting on young saplings. More recently, a” Committee of the Friends of Cedar Forest”, organized in 1985, is attempting to deal with the damage and disease –wrought by both man and nature – that afflicts the trees. To improve the general health and appearance of the forest, the Committee has removes tons of dead wood and fertilized the soil. Various pests and diseases are being treated and lightning rods have been installed for further protection. Three thousand meters of attractive pathways have been built so visitors can enjoy the grove without causing damage.
Also due for attention is a Maronite chapel, in the center of the forest. Built in 1843 when these cedars were under the protection of the Patriarchate, the chapel in the scene of a special annual celebration on the 6th of August.
[nextpage title=”SKIING IN THE CEDARS”]
The scenery and the quality of the snow make the Cedars and exceptional skiing venue. The pistes forms a national amphitheater and the high elevation mean the season usually last form December through April.
A French army ski school opened here, in 1930’s and the handsome building, which now belong to the Lebanese army , can still be seen near the cedar grove. The chair lift, installed in 1953, is no longer in use but the mains runs are equipped with five T-bar lifts. There are also four baby slopes with lifts. Ski rental are available from local shops, which also arrange ski lessons with qualified instructors,
Snack bars, hotels and restaurants service the ski area. More facilities are available at The Cedar “village” and in Bsharre, 15 minutes down mountain.
[nextpage title=”THINGS TO DO IN THE CEDARS AREA”]
The Cedars resort is set in an area of unusual natural and historical interest. In only 30 minutes you can drive form the crest of the mountain which soars nearly 3,000 meters above the resort, down to the bottom of the steep-sided Qadisha gorge at less than 1000 meters. Within this area are rivers, springs, waterfalls, caves and other natural formation are well as rock – cut churches, monasteries and interesting villages to visit. There is always the promise of a friendly welcome from the hospitable people who live there.
IF YOU HAVE TIME
An interesting tour can be made of the villages around the horseshoe-shaped rim of the Quadisha valley. If you are driving to The Cedar via the village of Qnat, the first village you come to on the south side of the gorge is Hadeth al-Jubbeh, a town which goes back to at least the early 6th century A.D. a stop here is recommended for the wonderful view of Qadisha. Next come Diman, the summer residence of the Maronite Patriarch since the 19th century, the site overlooks the monastery of Qannoubin, an early seat of the Patriarchy. From Diman is Hasroun, a red roofed town that hugs the edge of the Qadishe valley. This village is known for its picturesque dwelling, old churches and gardens. A pleasant pathway descends from here past several ancient churches into the Quadisha valley.
Bqaa Kafra, reached via a turnoff from Bqorquacha, is the highest village in the country at 1600 meters. This picturesque town is also the birth place of Lebanon’s famous Saint Charbel, born in 1828.
At he head of the gorge is Bsharre the hometown of Gibran Khalil Gibran.
Leaving Bsaharre you go around the horseshoe to Hadchit, dramatically perched on a ledge over the gorge. If you get off the main road and into the older part of town you will find traditional houses and streets, the typical town square and some old churches. A path starting from the lower town level goes to bottom of the valley. Anyone looking for souvenirs of cedar wood would do well to stop at the workshops of Blawza before heading up to The Cedars resort. This small town, not far from Hadchit, is also the starting point for walks to Diman or the Qannoubin Monastery in the valley.
On the old road between The Cedars and Bsaharre a long path on the side of the cliff leads to small Quadisha Grotto, below the caves gushes out of a powerful waterfall, especially full in the spring months. It is possible to visit the cave; which is lighted to show the limestone formations.
CLIMB LEBANON’S HIGHEST PEAK
You can ascend the 3088-meter high Qornet es-Sawda (or Back Horn,) by foot or take advantage of a rough track suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles.
Allow a whole day if you want to make the entire ascent and return by foot. The initial climb, following the path of the chair Clift, takes about two hour and brings to a small hut at the head of the lift. From here you hike north along the top for another hour. Look for patches of last winter’s snow and porcupine quills along the way.
An easier way to the top is to take a road suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles that starts at Dahr el-Qadib on the highest point of the road between The Cedars and Yammouneh in the Beqaa.
From the summit, which is marked by a large metallic tripod; you have a panoramic view of the coast of Lebanon towards the west. It is said that on a clear day the island of Cyprus can be seen.
From the Cedars, a summer excursion takes you east over the mountain towards the Beqaa Valley to Ouyoun Orghoch.
Here tended restaurants cluster around a large spring fed wetland where tout are farmed. Cold waters keep drinks chilled on the warmest days. In the spring and early summer expect to be presented with snow instead of ice for you arak.