Thursday, July 24, 2008
If there is anywhere that makes Lebanon unique, it is Wadi Qadisha. This gash in the earth winding from the heights of the remaining biblical Cedars to the coastal city of Tripoli, earns its name, 'The Holy Valley'. 'Qadisha' is an Aramaic or Syriac word for 'holy' echoing the Arabic 'Qadiss' for Saint, or the name of Jerusalem itself, 'Al Quds'.
The valley is deep. Its sides are lined by dense Mediterranean vegetation and littered with cave churches. The valley floor carries the Qadisha River that becomes the 'Abu Ali' when it nears Tripoli and the sea. There it is reduced to a trickle with concrete banks winding below the Crusader Fortress of St. Gilles.
The valley moves in jagged shifts from Bsharre (home of Khalil Gibran and Samir Geagea) to Hasroun, Ehden, and Hadath - a zigzag of villages facing each other across the Wadi.
The drive into the upper reaches of the valley is more like an automotive mountain climb: steep, fast, a rush. After one reaches the target of the Cedar grove at the pocket of the valley, one can go beyond to the higher mountains above the cedars to look down on the earth. There, one is literally above the clouds. The drive down, more leisurely, leaves one with a sense of accomplishment. Indeed, once, like an airplane making its descent, I drove down from that high point into the clouds and the cedars, and into the sound and fury of a hailstorm.
The trick to Wadi Qadisha is that it rises from sea level to 2500 meters in the span of 35 kms - a very steep climb for any coastal region. The wadi also shelters the monasteries of many who decided to seek the safety of its high alpine valley, including Qannubin, Mar Sarkis, and Lady of Hawqa - to name only three. It is this rapid climb from seashore to mountain that is the secret to Lebanon's beauty. It is also the key to understanding Lebanon as a mountain safe-haven that drew the Druze, Maronite, and Shiite sects that configure and define the country today.