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The Natural Beauty of Lebanon

The Natural Beauty of Lebanon

Presented Online (27 July 2022)

Nicholas Hardwick

Lebanon, which is situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, is a country which has long been celebrated for its outstanding natural beauty.

With the Mediterranean Sea on one side, and mountainous terrain throughout the length of the country, Lebanon’s geographical gifts provide the country with many opportunities for nature’s beauty to manifest itself.

Lebanon is famous for its spectacular sunrises and sunsets.  The sunrise is in the east, so it lights the mountains first.  The sunset in the west over the Mediterranean Sea is a striking feature over the beaches and harbours.

The mountains of Lebanon are a significant natural feature, which have outstanding beauty.  They are known for their height and are often snow covered in winter.  The Mount Lebanon range extends throughout the length of the country.  The average height of the mountains is 2500 m, but the highest peak is 3088 m, which is Qurnat as Sawdā in northern Lebanon.  In the south, Mount Sannine, which is visible from Beirut, has a height of 2695 m.  The two mountains mentioned here are spectacular in their beauty during the winter, when they are covered with snow.

To the east of Lebanon, the Anti-Lebanon Mountains form the border between Lebanon and Syria.  Their name refers to the fact that they are parallel and opposite (Latin, anti-) to the Mount Lebanon range.  Its highest point is Mount Hermon at 2814 m, which is renowned for its beauty.  It is a cluster of mountains with three summits, which are about the same height.  Straddling the border of Lebanon and Syria, it is covered with snow most of the year, which gives it a strikingly beautiful appearance.  Melt water from the snow seeps into cracks in the rock and emerges as springs at the base of the mountain.  The runoff produces fertile plants below the snowline, and the vineyards and various varieties of trees provide a beautiful scene.  

The mountain is a host to many examples of natural beauty, including flowers, birds and butterflies, the latter of which are especially in abundance with many species.  Due to its height, blooming of flowers begins on the top of the mountain later in the year in August rather than in the spring.

The Mount Hermon ski resort is near the south-eastern border of Lebanon in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, which were captured from Syria in 1967.  The snow cover in the winter means that it is a very beautiful scene for visitors at that time of the year.  The site is surrounded by the Hermon nature reserve, which is significant for its beautiful array of flowers, butterflies and birds.

One of the most significant features of the mountains is the cedars.  The cedars of Lebanon are, of course, famous in the Bible.  They are trees of great beauty, which give splendour to the mountains where they are found in the north of Lebanon.  They have spectacular dark green foliage and broad trunks with dark brown bark.  They are especially known from the mountains surrounding the Kadisha Valley, which is close to the Zgharta district, and thus not far from the village of Toula.  

Their wood is very beautiful, which is why it was chosen by the Kings of Israel, such as Solomon, who used it in the Temple, which he built in Jerusalem.  

The cedars are mentioned many times in the Old Testament of the Bible, and they are very important in the economic and political relations between the Hebrews and the Phoenicians.  Their beauty and usefulness was recognised by many other empires in the region during antiquity, including by the Egyptians and the Assyrians.

Situated in the Zgharta District in northern Lebanon, the village of Toula is located in a  mountainous region of the country.  It is known for its agricultural products, which are a result of the fertile soil which surrounds it.  Of particular note are the high quality grapes, whose beauty is apparent from the green vine leaves and the purple colour of the grapes.

They are used to produce arak, the strong distilled alcoholic drink flavoured with aniseed. Characteristic of many countries in the eastern Mediterranean region, a similar drink is also made in Greece, where it is called ouzo.

Since the village is made relatively inaccessible by snow in the winter, the small resident population is increased in the summer by many people who return there during the vacation period.  It is clear to see that the mountains, trees and plants, and, in the winter, the snow, create a beautiful environment in which the village of Toula is situated, and is characteristic of the mountainous geography of a lot of Lebanon.

The mountainous village of Aqoura, which is 68 km north of Beirut, is situated in a very beautiful region.  This Maronite village is the largest village belonging to its citizens in Lebanon.  It is surrounded by spectacular chains of mountains, for which it is famous.  It is also known for the large number of round lakes in the region, which are impressive in their appearance.

Baskinta, which is a village in the centre of the country, is known for its beautiful mountainous environment, and, in fact, it is one of the highest located villages in the country.  Its vineyards and apple orchards are particularly significant, and add to the beauty of the region.  Its waterfall is famous and pours over a cliff into a round pond, which has been created out of stone over thousands of years.  Mzaar Kfardebian is 11 km away, which is the largest ski resort in the Middle East, and is striking for its expanse of snow in the winter.

The proximity of the Mediterranean Sea lends to the beauty of the cities and towns which are situated on the coast.  Inhabited for many thousands of years, the cities were built on the coast largely for economic reasons, as a central point between sea and land trade routes.  Tyre was a famous city of the ancient Phoenicians.  Today, the city has beautiful scenery as a result of its location as a port, and the fishing harbour in the Old Town is particularly attractive.

Sidon was also an important city of the ancient Phoenicians.  It is significant for the natural beauty of its harbour.  A number of palm trees is a striking feature next to the water.  The Sidon Sea Castle, which dates from the thirteenth century AD, is a particular landmark next to the beautiful water of the harbour.

Byblos is another beautiful Lebanese city on the Mediterranean Sea.  The beaches of Byblos are particularly beautiful.  A view of the castle beside the port has a beautiful aspect beside the water, both during the day and when it is floodlit at night.  Palm trees, which are characteristic of the Mediterranean landscape, are found beside the harbour at Byblos.

In Lebanon, the coast of the Mediterranean Sea has many beautiful beaches.  The clear water of the sea laps on the beautiful coastline.  The beaches are perfect for swimming and are thus attractive to both Lebanese and to tourists.  The beaches at Ramlet El-Baida in Beirut, Byblos and Tyre are notable for the beauty of their sand.  The first allows for swimming in the capital city and is often crowded.  Those at Byblos and at Tyre have stretches of sand which are perfect for relaxing.  Benny Beach, located at Chekka in the north of Lebanon, in addition to sand, has rocks which have been smoothed to rounded forms by centuries of contact with the sea.  Rabbit Island, which is near Tripoli and easily accessible from Beirut, is known for its stunning appearance and has beautiful beaches and the water is known for being crystal clear and turquoise in colour.  Birds, monk seals and green turtles are visible on the island.

The seaside town of Anfeh on the north coast of the country is recognised for its natural beauty.  The sea and the picturesque coastline are contrasted with white houses and windmills, and a lot of the surrounding area has salt works.  The inhabitants are largely Antiochean Orthodox with some Maronites and Sunni Muslims.

With a combination of mountains and beaches, one of the attractions of Lebanon is that you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon.

The beauty of the rural landscape is enhanced by many species of flowering plants.  Some of the distinctive flowering trees of Lebanon are the Lebanese wild apple, which blooms in April and May and has white flowers and yellow fruit, the Judas tree, which is covered in spring with deep pink flowers, and the Syrian maple, which also flowers in the spring and has indistinct greenish-yellow flowers.  The Lebanon violet grows on the cold higher ground of the country.  It has dark green leaves and purple flowers.

The valleys and the rivers of Lebanon are a particularly beautiful part of the country.  The Beqaa Valley in eastern Lebanon is a fertile valley, which is the most important farming region of the country.  It is situated 30 km east of Beirut, and is between the Anti-Lebanon Mountains to the east and Mount Lebanon to the west.  The Orontes and the Litani Rivers originate in the valley.  It is part of the Great Rift Valley, which is a geographical feature that extends to the Red Sea and into Africa.  The ancient Roman temples at Baalbek are situated in the middle of the beautiful scenery of the valley.  

It is the location of the famous vineyards and wineries of Lebanon.  Wine making in the valley belongs to a very long tradition, since its climate is particularly suitable for growing grapes.  There are very many vineyards in the valley, and the wine produced there is exported around the world.  Founded in 1857 by Jesuit priests, and owned by them until 1973, Château Ksara is the vineyard which has by far the largest production in Lebanon.  It is known for the beauty of its extensive vineyards in the valley, set in the midst of clay and chalk earth, and which are striking at harvest time with the grapes and the leaves on the vines.

From the Beqaa Valley, the Orontes River begins in Lebanon and flows north into Syria and Turkey.  Only a small section of the river is in Lebanon and it is mostly in Syria and Turkey.  Its main source is the spring, Ain ez Zarqa, which is near the cavern-monastery, the Monastery of Saint Maroun.  The latter is set spectacularly into a cliff face, whose orange stone is striking in its appearance.  The river’s waters are very beautiful and, along its banks, the trees and foliage enhance its attraction as a geographical feature of the region.

Also from the valley, the Litani River flows to the south and enters the sea near Tyre to the south of Lebanon, and is the longest river in Lebanon.  It flows entirely within the country of Lebanon.  It is noted for the beauty of its water, and the trees and the plants which grow on its banks.  In the middle section of the river, Lake Qaraoun, which was formed by the construction of the Qaraoun Dam in 1959, is noted for its large variety of migratory birds, which produce a spectacular scene on the lake and the surrounding area.

The southern portion of the river near its entry to the sea is called the Qasimiyeh.  The area around it is the Qasmieh-Ras-el-Aïn region and is one of the largest irrigated areas of the country.  The citrus trees and bananas, which are the focus of interest of the farmers in this region, provide a lush and beautiful sight in the valley.

Thirteen rivers rise in Mount Lebanon and flow through gorges to the Mediterranean Sea.  An example is the Kadisha River in the north of Lebanon, which flows through the Kadisha Valley, and it enters the sea at Tripoli.  Its upper reaches are known for the beauty of their waters, which flow over rocks and have a canopy of trees.  The Kadisha Valley is known for its spectacular scenery, such as its deep mountain gorges.  These are particularly beautiful when mists form in the gorges.  The steep cliffs have many caves, which are often very high up.

Another beautiful river, which rises in Mount Lebanon, is the Abraham River, which enters the sea near Byblos.  It is known for its steep drop from its source over a number of waterfalls and the spectacular gorge, through which it passes in the mountains.  Each February, the river is coloured red by the soil, which the heavy winter rains washes off the mountains.

Lebanon is known for its various beautiful waterfalls.  One of the most notable is at Afqa on Mount Lebanon, where the falls cascade over a small cliff face into a pond below.  By contrast, the falls at Faraya in central Lebanon descend from a very high cliff, which is notable for its steep walls of rock on both sides of the falls.  The Kfarhilda falls in northern Lebanon have a double cascade of water, which has a fine white spray.

The Jeita Grotto, which is situated in the Nahr al-Kalb Valley, 18 km north of Beirut, has two interconnected limestone caves, which are notable for their spectacular natural features, including stalactites and stalagmites.  The upper gallery has three chambers, including the White Chamber and the Red Chamber, with the latter coloured with iron oxide, which gives it the red colour.  The upper gallery has the world’s largest stalactite, which has length of 8.2 m.  The lower grotto has a large underground river, which forms significant water supply for Lebanon.  The grotto is a significant tourist attraction and a national symbol of Lebanon.

Chouwen, which is 40 km from Beirut, is significant for its natural beauty, and a popular destination for people who enjoy nature.  Its lake with its turquoise blue water is set in a gorge beneath stunning mountain peaks.  The trees and plants are very beautiful next to the lake, particularly when they are seen through the sunlight.

Qartaba, which is situated in the mountains near Byblos, is a Maronite village which is set in an area of considerable natural beauty.  This includes mountains and valleys, with the former being covered by snow in the winter, and the latter including deep gorges with beautiful rivers.  It is known for its spectacular sunsets, which are stunning because of the natural beauty of the landscape.

This lecture has described the outstanding natural beauty of Lebanon.  It can truly be said that Lebanon, as a country, has some of the world’s most beautiful places to visit.

Sources:

For the Monastery of St Maroun: www.lebanontraveler.com/en/magazine/mar_maroun/ (5/2/2021)