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Toula: the humble village, setting new horizons in new times

8. History

Lebanon is located at a crossroads of cultures in the eastern Mediterranean region.  The region, which includes Toula, was occupied successively by the empires of Mesopotamia, such as the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the neo-Hittite kingdoms (2nd -1st millennia BC), and the Persians (mid 1st millennium BC).

It was the homeland of the Phoenicians, the ancient seafaring people, and the beginning of their trade routes, which stretched throughout the Mediterranean Sea during the period from the mid 2nd millennium-c.300 BC.   The Phoenicians invented the alphabet, upon which our alphabet is based.  One of the most important cities which they founded was Carthage in North Africa, situated in modern day Tunisia, whose traditional foundation date is 814 BC.  The meaning of Carthage in Phoenician is ‘New City’, in other words, ‘New Tyre’, named after Tyre which was the most important city in Phoenicia.  The name of the Phoenicians means ‘purple’ because of the dye which they traded, which was made from the murex sea shell, and from their name is derived the Latin word ‘Punic’ for their descendents the Carthaginians.  Carthage established a significant empire in the western Mediterranean and was at its height in the 3rd century BC.  The famous Carthaginian general Hannibal fought the Romans during the 2nd Punic War (218-01 BC), and, although finally defeated, he almost overwhelmed the Romans in several famous battles in Italy.  Source: Nicholas Hardwick

The Greeks first made contact with the coast in the region of Lebanon in the 2nd millennium BC and had established trading cities there in the 1st millennium BC. The name of the city of Tripoli comes from Greek, which means 'three cities', and is indicative of the fact that the Greeks lived for many centuries in the region.  Alexander the Great of Macedonia in northern Greece, who reigned from 336-323 BC, conquered the region, and further increased the influence of Greek culture. This was significant in the region during the period of the Seleucid rulers, the successors of Alexander, whose capital was at nearby Antioch.  In the Seleucid Empire, which stretched from Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, to India, other cultures and languages, such as Phoenician and Aramaic, also existed alongside Greek culture. Source: Nicholas Hardwick

In the 1st century BC, the region was conquered by the Romans, who controlled the region for several centuries, and their rule continued under the succeeding Byzantine Empire (5th century AD-1250), whose capital was at Constantinople, modern day Istanbul in Turkey.  Lebanon is known in later ages for the road system of the Romans, since the region was an important crossroads in the Roman Empire.  Such trade routes and roads were crucial for the interconnections of the societies which developed them.  The region was significant for the Roman Empire because it was very close to the eastern border of the empire with the Parthians, later the Sassanians.  As such, it was an area of continuous military activity for the Romans and there were many legionary fortresses in the region.  The Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion in the 4th century, which it remained under the Byzantine Empire.  This fact was important for the development of Christianity, and specifically the Maronite Catholic Church, in Lebanon and in Toula.  Source: Nicholas Hardwick

There is no precise reference to the foundation of the village, but it may be ancient since its name has been suggested by popular etymology to be derived from the Phoenician word ‘tella’, meaning ‘hill’, forms of which are found in various Semitic languages.  Indeed, most of the villages in the vicinity have Aramaic-Canaanite names.  The antiquity of habitation is also suggested by the Roman ruins which are on the edges of the village. Source: Toula Village, 2

The interest of the Roman Catholic Church generally in the Maronite Church inevitably had an influence on the village. This interest had existed during the Crusades, which were of course, a Roman Catholic initiative in the Levant.  Then, after a period of relative isolation from the west*, Pope Eugenius VI (1432-47) saw in the Maronite Church a commitment to the Roman Catholic Church after the failure of the Council of Florence (1439-44), which had attempted a union of the western and eastern churches.  He granted the title ‘Patriarch of Antioch’ (Patriarcha Antiochiensis), which had previously be reserved for the Melkite Patriarch*, who was in communion with the Greek Orthodox Church, to the Maronite Patriarchs, who had previously been called ‘Patriarch of the Maronites’ (Patriarcha Maronitarum) without naming the See.  Source: Toula Village, 3.4

As a result of many earthquakes and floods in the north of Lebanon, which led to the change in the course of the Geouit River and the destruction of the flour mills, in 1501, many people from the region migrated to Cyprus.  However, as a result of the oppressive regime and heavy taxes there, they returned to the mountains of Lebanon.  Source : Barakat, 12-13.

The Patriarch Jacob Al Dowayhi has written a history of the period which states that around 1519, the Christian church in the region suffered considerably.   The churches were destroyed, Christian leaders were killed, those who worked for the Mamluk state suffered bans and deprivations, money was confiscated from Christian leaders in Damascus, Jacob Al Dowayhi and other bishops were captured and others fled to Cyprus.  Source: Barakat, 20, n.19

Like the rest of Lebanon, Toula was under the French Mandate from 1919-44, and during World War II (1939-45) there was fighting between Vichy French forces and British, Australian and Free French Forces in the region.  From 1944, the village was in the independent state of Lebanon.  The village and its people were inevitably affected by the Civil War which began in 1975, particularly those who lived in Tripoli, which was badly damaged by the war.  This led to significant migration from the village to many countries including Australia.

The population of the village has varied over the last century and a half, which is the time during which we have records.  In 1849, in Toula and Bhiret Toula combined, there were 300 males living in 68 houses.  To give the approximate number of the entire population, a slightly larger number of women should be added.  In 1988, there were 947 registered persons and 1152 registered in 1998, and at present 1750 people.  Nearly half of those registered at present have emigrated to live abroad.  This shows that, although the population has roughly trebled in the last 150 years, the actual number of people living in the village is not much greater.  Of those who live abroad, 16 no longer have any connection with their country of origin, but their names remain on the village records.

Source: Zgharta-Zawie Online Magazine