The Wow Factor Lebanon

  1. Baalbek Roman Ruins.

As early as 9000 BC, Baalbek was a place for worship and became a cornerstone of ancient civilizations. Located in modern day Lebanon, the ruins stand tall as an archaeological wonder with towering monuments and impressive columns.

As significant holy grounds, Baalbek was a center for Mesopotamian, Roman, Christian and Islamic worship as each group introduced their own heritage to this sacred monument.

Up until 150 BC, the site was a temple dedicated to the Phoenician Astarte and Baal. It is not hard to imagine that the wreaths and sacrifices carried out for Astarte the goddess of fertility and war were then shifted to Venus during the Roman colonization. Subsequently, the temple was brought into the Christian era with Constantine the Great’s influence on the Roman Empire. That is up until 637 AD when Islamic rule led to the use of the site as a reinforced fortress and a Mosque was added.

The decline of these ruins began when the temple passed to the Ottoman Empire, it was abandoned and left in ruins. In addition, earthquakes, storms and natural forces continued to tear the site apart until 1898. That year marked a visit from the German Emperor Wilhelm II, who pioneered the attempt of restoring Baalbek and preserving it.

In terms of architecture the greatest temples at the site are the Temples of Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus. The sheer magnitude of these have created something of a puzzle for archaeologists as they continuously theorize as to how rocks of this grandeur could have been carved and assembled. For example, the temple of Jupiter is surrounded by 54 columns which stand at nearly 23 meters high and are considered some of the largest in the world. The temple of Bacchus stands out from the rest as it is so well preserved and is adorned with beautiful carvings that date back to the Roman Empire.

Today, the ruins of Baalbek still stand as one of Lebanon’s most prized historical treasures. The place is always alive with music festivals and folklore-related activities. Tourists and locals alike flock for the chance of seeing the picturesque sunset behind those ancient columns. Walking through this sacred site, one can’t help but picture all the different peoples who have worshiped here at the alters of their Gods.

2. Baatara Waterfall

Lebanon is the center of tourism in the Middle East as travelers from all over the region flock to explore the country. It’s known for its amazing climate and beautiful landscapes. There is so much to explore in Lebanon, and the Baatara Gorge Waterfall is somewhere you won’t want to miss.

Located 76 km from Beirut, around a 2 hour drive, the Baatara Gorge Waterfall, or as it is also known Balou’ Bala’a, is an extraordinary sight. It was ‘discovered’ by Henri Coiffait in 1952 and was fully mapped out in the 1980s, at which point it was known as the Cave of Three Bridges.

To get to the site, you will need to walk 300 meters into Tannourine, this place is definitely worth the hike. The Gorge has 3 natural bridges connecting it from side to side and offering an easy walk through for the adventurous tourist. In the spring, the water falls an impressive 255 meters into a natural sinkhole.

The waterfall is the product of millions of years’ worth of limestone erosion. Geologists say that it is around 160 million years old and would have been around when dinosaurs roamed the area. Naturally, it was classified as a nature reserve in 1999 as the site’s historical value is undeniable. The best time to visit is in March or April when the waterfall is supplied by the melting of winter snow in the mountains. The best way to get here from Beirut is via taxi and it’s possible to visit and go back to the city on the same day.

There is no other place in Lebanon quite like the Baatara Gorge Waterfall. Strap on your backpack and hike to the site, as this waterfall should be on your bucket list. Be careful, however, as the stones are slippery. You wouldn’t want to fall into the chasm no matter how beautiful the waterfall looks.

3. Chouwen River

Though rarely featured in guidebooks, Nahr Ibrahim Valley’s fascinating past and humbling natural environment are certainly worth a visit. Here’s everything you need to know.

Dominated by spectacular mountains, Lebanon is famous for its dozens of steep, winding valleys that have taken on a deep cultural significance for the country’s people. A walk through the Nahr Ibrahim Valley, which lies not far from the ancient city of Byblos north of Beirut, shows that it is one of the most underrated parts of Lebanon’s mountainous interior, an area that is otherwise teeming with activity.

A place of legends
“Nahr Ibrahim” means “The Abraham River” in Arabic, and the valley that surrounds it has an important place in the mythology of both the Greeks and the people of Phoenicia, one of the first civilisations to call Lebanon home. In those ancient days, the valley’s main claim to fame was its association with the Greek god Adonis, who was said to have been killed here by a boar on the orders of the god Ares. Every spring the waters of the Ibrahim River turn red from silt, which is said to signify the blood of the dead god.

Today, this legend persists, and the valley’s mythological allure is amplified by the countless ruins left by the Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, and others that dot the mountainsides. But by far the main reason people come to visit this place is its stunning natural beauty. The sides of the valley quickly become steep as you follow the road up into the mountains, with sheer, vertical towers of stone protruding out of the gorge below.

4. Jeita Grotto

The Jeita Grotto (Arabic: مغارة جعيتا‎) is a system of two separate, but interconnected, karstic limestone caves spanning an overall length of nearly 9 kilometres (5.6 mi). The caves are situated in the Nahr al-Kalb valley within the locality of Jeita, 18 kilometres (11 mi) north of the Lebanese capital Beirut. Though inhabited in prehistoric times, the lower cave was not rediscovered until 1836 by Reverend William Thomson; it can only be visited by boat since it channels an underground river that provides fresh drinking water to more than a million Lebanese.

In 1958, Lebanese speleologists discovered the upper galleries 60 metres (200 ft) above the lower cave which have been accommodated with an access tunnel and a series of walkways to enable tourists safe access without disturbing the natural landscape. The upper galleries house the world’s largest known stalactite. The galleries are composed of a series of chambers the largest of which peaks at a height of 12 metres (39 ft).

Aside from being a Lebanese national symbol and a top tourist destination, the Jeita grotto plays an important social, economic and cultural role in the country. It was one of top 14 finalists in the New 7 Wonders of Nature competition.

5. Qadisha Valley

Ouadi Qadisha (The Holy Valley)

The Qadisha valley is one of the most important early Christian monastic settlements in the world. Its monasteries, many of which are of a great age, stand in dramatic positions in a rugged landscape. Nearby are the remains of the great forest of cedars of Lebanon, highly prized in antiquity for the construction of great religious buildings.

Brief synthesis

Ouadi Qadisha is one of the most important settlement sites of the first Christian monasteries in the world, and its monasteries, many of which of great age, are set in an extraordinarily rugged landscape. Nearby are the vestiges of the great cedar forest of Lebanon, highly prized in ancient times for the construction of great religious buildings.

The Qadisha Valley site and the Forest of the Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el-Rab) are located in northern Lebanon. The Qadisha Valley is located North of Mount-Lebanon chain, at the foot of Mount al-Makmel and West of the Forest of the Cedars of God. The Holy River Qadisha, celebrated in the Scriptures, runs through the Valley. The Forest of the Cedars of God is located on Mount Makmel, between 1900 and 2050 m altitude and to the East of the village of Bcharré.

The rocky cliffs of the Qadisha Valley have served over centuries as a place for meditation and refuge. The Valley comprises the largest number of monasteries and hermitages dating back to the very first spread of Christianism. The main monasteries are those of St Anthony of Quzhayya, Our Lady of Hauqqa, Qannubin and Mar Lichaa. This Valley bears unique witness to the very centre of Maronite eremitism. Its natural caves, carved into the hillsides – almost inaccessible – and decorated with frescoes testifying to an architecture specifically conceived for the spiritual and vital needs of an austere life. There exist numerous terraces for growing grain by the monks, hermits and peasants who lived in the region; several of these terraces are still under cultivation today.

Linked to the Qadisha Valley through historic reference and contiguity, the Forest of the Cedars of God is the last vestige of antique forests and one of the rare sites where the Cedrus lebani still grows, one of the most valued construction materials in the antique world and cited 103 times in the Bible.

Criterion (iii): Since the beginnings of Christianity, the Qadisha Valley has given shelter to monastic communities. The trees of the cedar forest are the survivors of a sacred forest and one of the most prized building materials in ancient times.

Criterion (iv): The rugged Valley has long been a place of meditation and refuge. It comprises an exceptional number of coenobite and eremitic monastic foundations, some of which date back to a very ancient period of the expansion of Christianity. The monasteries of the Qadisha Valley are among the most significant surviving examples of the strength of the Christian faith.

Integrity (2009)

The Qadisha Valley comprises all the caves, monasteries and cultivated terraces that are associated with the activities from a very early phase of Christianity. The cultural elements of the site are for the most part existent, but their state of conservation varies: some religious buildings are dilapidated, their stability is precarious and with a few exceptions, the frescoes have almost all disappeared. The visual integrity of the Valley is disturbed by the increase in human settlements in the vicinity, especially on the ridges surrounding the Valley as well as by the uncontrolled visitor flow. The Reserve of the Forest of the Cedars of God is located within the boundaries of the property and is well preserved. However, its visual integrity is affected by souvenir shops on one side and by an illegal construction on the eastern side. The entrance to the Forest should be monitored and the illegal building should be demolished, in particular as it is located in an area subject to reforestation.

Authenticity (2009)

The original character of the ancient monastic troglodyte habitats is still visible. The monastic architecture and the agricultural habitats of the Valley have not yet been modified or altered by substitution interventions. In addition, they have not been hampered by activities incompatible with the spirit of the place. Over time, some sites have lost certain of their characteristic elements such as frescoes or structures. The global authenticity of the Christian vestiges is consequently vulnerable. The Forest of the Cedars of God has maintained its authenticity as related to the survival of its trees.

Protection and management requirements (2009)

The Qadisha Holy Valley is protected by Ministerial Orders 13/1995 and 60/1997 enacted by the Ministry of Culture, by Order 151/95 enacted by the Ministry of the Environment, and by the Antiquities Law 166/1933. A new town and building plan has been approved. Currently, the Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) and the Ministry of the Environment are the official responsible organisms of the property. The COSAQ, the body comprising the land owners (Maronite Patriarchate, religious orders etc.), the regional municipalities and private associations, take care of the management of the property. Two coordination commissions, administrative and scientific, should be created to assist in the management of the property and this included in the framework of the management plan submitted to the World Heritage Centre at the time of inscription. This management plan was updated in 2007-2008. The creation of a Regional Park and the development of a detailed management plan to ensure the integrity and authenticity of the property is recommended by the World Heritage Committee. A programme of interventions will enable, among others, the implementation of work on the built heritage, improvement of the road network and that concerned with excursions, strengthen security and control in the Valley, support ecological tourism and biological agriculture, written studies and creation of databases.

The area of the Cedars is considered a national natural site and is subject to the following protection texts: Law 8/7/1939 concerning landscapes and natural sites in Lebanon; Decree NI434 of 28/3/1942 that indicates the geographical boundaries and standards of the Cedar Region; Decree K/836 of 9/1/1950 concerning the organization and development of the Cedar Region; Decree 52 of 7/11/2005 concerning the organization and development of the Cedar Region; Decree Law 558 of 24/7/1996 concerning the protection of the forest of Lebanon under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture. The protection of this site is ensured by the joint action of the Maronite Patriarchate, the Municipality of Bcharré, the Lebanese army and the Committee of the Friends of the Cedar Forest. The Ministry of Agriculture and the DGA are the official managers responsible of the property. The Committee of the Friends of the Cedar Forest manages the Forest in accordance with an Action Plan. Some protection measures must be envisaged, notably to clear the areas around the Forest and the removal to a more appropriate area of the souvenir kiosks. A continuous ecological recording is indispensable to ensure monitoring and control.