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Hanging out

Wadi Qadisha or the “Saint Valley”

Lebanon Travel Guide - August 17, 2013, 11h19
Par Sara Lebbos

Nested in between Bcharreh and Tourza, Wadi Qadisha is compared exactly to a profound gorge, concealing an exceptional vegetation, with steep sides of parallel stratums, a land with a view full of contrasts where the arid planes of Qornet Es-sawda open on the Greenland of the nearby valleys where cedars, that live for long centuries, leave the place for green oak trees, juniper, and Mediterranean shrubs: the whole is crossed with a river that flow down: “Naher Qadisha”. The water of the small nearby valleys runs down in its flow, and whenever out of the valley go through Tripoli reaching the sea.
This river gave the region its title “the Saint Valley”. In fact, the name Qadisha shows in his Semitic roots the “Saint concept”.

85 km far from Beirut and 18 km from Tripoli, the valley spreads out from Kousba and is divided later into two branches starting from Tourza. Each branch holds the name of a monastery. The first, Wadi Qozhaya reachs Ehden and the second, Wadi Qannoubine, covers Hadath El-jebbe in the south to and up in the Cedars.

An amazing geological work has created this valley as it is known today in its entire splendor. Erosions caused by the passage of the river that this valley was gradually eroded until the formation of this profound gorge with the creation of grottos below.

The most important consequence of this valley, on the natural and on the cultural levels, was the natural formation of these grottos: Jewels of this valley, stemmed from the underground karistic erosion, they immediately became refuge grottos or sacred grottos.
Qadisha grotto, under Bcharreh village, stretches out over more than 778 meters. Dilmass grotto located on a strategic site was used as a watching post through its façade gapped by small openings. El Houriyyeh grotto, witnessed a civilization that used to observe accurate funerary rituals.

Concealing antiquities, flowing down sources, elaborated by circumvolutions and harmonious undulations formed by the rock, sprinkled with stalactites and stalagmites and other calcareous concretions, the entire run down on different colors, some of these grottos offers to the exploratory sight a bewitching view.


Refuge grotto and Christianity

Since prehistory during the roman era, people lived in these grottos. But at the first lights of Christianity, taken with bloody doctrinal quarrels concerning Christ’s nature, these grottos were transformed into real chapels, monasteries and hermitages, where lived generations of monks, hermits and ascetics.

Easy to reach grottos, having been used as refuge reached hundreds in numbers and were linked to the big monasteries of the valley. These monasteries were autonomous and the monks that occupied these monasteries did not pronounce their vows but took their functions wearing the official clothes. They had an ascetic existence in utter destitution; some of them became sometime real hermits.
Travelers’ testimonies are numerous about this exemplary monastic way of life that respects with all accuracy prayers, frugal dinners and field works.

It is worth mentioning that the echoes of different prayers were heard in the valley in all languages: Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian, and Arabic. Even some Muslim solitaries took these grottos as refuge. According to the Andalusian voyager Ibn Joubeir’s stories that are well known nowadays, Muslim recluses and the Christian population used to get along very well then.

What is still mysterious is the little information about exact beginnings of Christianity in this region. Small temples had existed for long time in the mountains, and villages seem to be developed all around worship places. Later, after the recognition of the Christianity as an official religion, the ancient worship places were systematically destructed. Some places are still witnesses of this period before Christianity. At Hadchit, the Saint Roman church (Mar Romanos), seems to have been built on an archeological temple. At Bcharre, under Saint-Serge (Mar Sarkis) Convent, there is an archeological grave dominated by a natural obelisk overhanging the valley. There are so many signs of impregnation of roman traditions in this valley, Christianity having been introduced late in Qadisha in contrary to coastal villages.

The entire valley keeps the mark of different cultures and civilizations that had went through it. A pagan vestige with religious relics, Qadisha is the link between centuries. It witnessed the morals evolution on the religious level and among others the impacts of Christianity in the region.

With the crusaders, the “saint valley” was a real refuge, but also a high place for confrontation: the alliance between Christians of the mountains and a Muslim army knocked over the francs protected by Tripoli earldom.
Later in the XIII century, the Mamelouks took over the power, made incursions in the valley where were patriarchs who ended by being massacred with their refugees. During these incursions, the residents hid in difficult to reach grottos like “Aassi al-Hadath” grotto.

The maronit patriarch

Qadisha sheltered patriarch Youhanna al-Jaji persecuted by the Governor of Tripoli in 1440. Seventy-six patriarchs succeeded after him, making from Qannoubine the main location of the maronite patriarchate during 400 years i.e. from XV to XIX century.

If the main location of maronites was implanted in the valley, it was because first of its protective nature and the religious believes and its residents. In fact, during these centuries, the patriarchate had lots of enemies: the monasteries and religious people had to be protected for long time in the depth of this valley from the “pacha” ottoman of Tripoli. It is also for this reason that, during this difficult period, the patriarchate had strong relations with Rome and Europe. He also received the French protectorate from King Louis XIV.
These relations with Europe permitted many exchanges and achievements: Haouqa monastery housed during 9 years a seminar held by the capuchin priests under the aegis of the pope Urban VIII. This seminar held at the school didn’t register more than 15 students and the most promising were later chosen by the patriarch in order to perfect their education at the Maronite college of Rome.

As for Qozhayya Monastery, one of the largest monasteries of this valley, it includes a small printing museum. The monastery already owned during the XVI century mobile printing machines imported from Europe and it acquired at the end an ancient printing from Rome.

In 1694, the project on the organization of monastic life with rules and hierarchy was really born; and the first maronite order was born in Deir Mar Licha adopting the rule of solemn vow profession. Attached to the patriarch, the order is also an institution of pontifical law. So, the autonomous convent adopted this regulation.
The most renown monasteries in our time are the ones of Qozhaya, Saydet Haouqa, Qannoubine and Mar Licha.

Thus we surely understand the correctness of the French appellation of “Wadi Qadisha”, “the Saint valley” and also the one in English: “Valley of the Christians”.
We should not forget that this valley has also given and raised famous men like: Saint Charbel Makhlouf, Francois de Chasteuil, the patriarch Douihy and Mgr Joseph-Simon Assemani; without forgetting Gebran KhalilGebran whose name was given to Mar Sarkis Convent in Bcharre that was transferred into a museum.

Furthermore, in view of its luxuriant vegetation, Qadisha includes many natural sources: its slopes divided into two terraces allow cereals and vines and fruit trees cultivation at the bottom. Thanks to successful water sources and river canalization, many vegetables were able to be grown; and the natural irrigation of the place, full of this water that abundantly goes through valley, permits interesting land exploitation and healthy agriculture.

Rock vestiges and an exceptional nature: we should think of keeping this gift from nature away from pollution that started on its slops and its precious river…
The problems of the protection of sites protection are taken into consideration by the committee for safeguarding the valley or the friends of Bcharre cedar forest. But the funds needed for the suggested solutions should really be insured.

All the abovementioned wealth, whether natural or cultural, pushed the UNESCO to register Qadisha Valley on the list of International Patrimony under the number 850.

#NaturalSite, #WadiQadisha
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