Batroun, on the coast south of Tripoli, was known as "Batruna" in the famous tell al-Amarna letters of the 14th century B.C, although its history goes back even further. The town was called "Botrys" in Greco-Roman times and during the Crusader era it was a seigniory dependent on the County of Tripoli.
Batroun's fishing port, undoubtedly of great antiquity, still supplies local markets with fresh fish. The city's sights can be best appreciated by heading on foot through the old part of town. On your way look for remains of the Crusader castle within the walls of the 19th century souks and traditional houses. Along the sea front starting from the north end of town you will find the century-old Maronite cathedral of St.Stefan, the beautiful 19th century Greek Orthodox Church of St.George and the tiny chapel known as "Sayidat al-Bahr", or Our Lady of the Sea. This simple whitewashed building has a wide verandah overlooking the sea and an excellent view of Batroun's sea wall, which is what remains of a huge quarry famous in Hellenistic and Roman times.
Batroun also has a rock-cut Roman theater. Today it sits in a private garden, but your visit is welcome. Compare the motifs carved on the arch of a doorway near the theater with those over the door of the church of St.George. These were made by the same hand that decorated the tombs near the Mar Estephan church in the neighboring village of Wajh al-Hajar.
From Kousba continue on the road to the Cedars until the village of Qnat. From there turn off to Hardine. A single road accesses this rather isolated village, but it can be identified from a distance by its landmark natural rocky platform that resembles a huge lava flow.
In the center of the village are the ruins of a medieval chapel with a unique nave. The temple remains, facing Qadisha and the Cedars are beyond the upper level of hardine. The villagers will be happy to give you directions.
This village above Batroun between Maad and Smar Jbeil is the site of the Basbous brothers sculpture workshop.
Approaching the property you will see large pieces of sculpted stone along the roadside, a preview of what is to come. On the grounds is a large open-air exhibit in a pleasant garden atmosphere. There is also an indoor museum-showroom.
Bsharre, 1400m high, commands a prime position at the head of the Qadisha valley just below the famous Cedars of Lebanon. In Crusader times it was known as one of the fiefs of the county of Tripoli. Bsharre can be reached from Tripoli through Ehden or through the Koura district starting at Chekka on the coast.
This is the hometown of Gibran khalil Gibran (1883-1931) the Lebanese poet and painter. A museum near his place of burial in the rock-cut monastery of Mar-Sarkis should not be missed. Open daily in winter from 9am to 5pm except Mondays, and every day during the summer.
The Cedars has a lot of offer scenic beauty, hiking, skiing and après ski. And, of course, there are the famous Cedars of Lebanon where some of the oldest and most majestic examples of this ancient tree grow.
Known as "Arz el Rab" or Cedar of God, the trees are among the last survivors of the immense forests that lay across Mount Lebanon in ancient times. The Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians as well as the residents of Canaan-Phoenicia exploited their timber. Egyptians especially prized the wood for shipbuilding and Solomon used it for his temple.
The ski area at 2066 meters offers a combination of slopes, most of them with an ideal northwest exposure. Five T-bar tows carry skiers up to 2300 meters. Hotels, chalets, restaurants and snack bars are in good supply and in ski rentals and lessons are available.
On the southern edge of the Qadisha valley, Diman is the summer residence of the Maronite Patriarch. The site overlooks the Monastery of Deir Qannoubin, an early seat of the Patriarch. The imposing church has some interesting paintings by Lebanese painter Saliba Doueihy.
From here a steep path takes you to the Qadisha River in the gorge. Another half hour brings you to the Monastery of Deir Qannoubin.
One of the oldest mountain villages in the country, Hadeth al-Jubbet goes back to at least the early 6th century AD. From its high vantage point there is a unique view of the rugged Qadisha gorge below. A rough secondary road begins at the town center and winds through a wild mountain landscape, passing the cedar forest of Hadath al-Jubbet. The road continues on to the interesting towns of Tannourine al-Fawqa, Tannourine al-Tahta and Douma.
The Qadisha valley near Bsharre marks the start of a deep geological fault whose extending valleys reach out of sight to the sea. The word "Qadisha" comes from a Semitic root meaning "holy" and Wadi Qadisha is the "Holy valley".
Filled with caves and rocks shelters inhabited from the third millennium B.C. to the Roman period, the valley is scattered with chapels, hermitages and monasteries cut from rock. In the 7th century it was inhabited by Christian monks who settled in almost inaccessible limestone caves to lead ascetic lives. A number of monasteries were built in this area, the most important of which are Deir Qannoubin, an ancient seat of the Maronite Patriarchate; Deir Qouzhayya, site of the first printing press in the Middle East and Deir Mar Elisha, where the Maronite Order of Lebanese Monks was founded in 1695.
The gorge is best explored on foot. A narrow vehicular road descends to the bottom, but it is more fun to take one of the paths from the village of Tourza, Blawza, Hadchit, Hasroun and Diman. The Qadisha River, whose source is the Qadisha Grotto, runs through the valley, continuing down to Tripoli where it becomes the Abu Ali River.
On the old road between the Cedars and Bsharre is the Qadisha Grotto, where water thunders down from snow-fed springs. A sign marks the spot where you take a footpath from the roadside to the cave, a walk of about ten minutes. The cave is lighted to show its limestone formations, but the rushing water and cool temperatures are the main attractions here. Below the cave is a powerful waterfall, especially full in spring months. Closed during the winter, in summer this is the site of an outdoor restaurant and café.
Deir Qannoubin served as a fortress palace for the Maronite patriarchs from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Foot can reach the monastery from Blawza or Diman, a walk of several hours that gives an idea of what the journey was like for early pilgrims and Patriarchs. A shorter way is by the path that begins at the bottom of the valley.
The monastery's church, half built into the rock, is decorated with frescos from the 18th - 19th centuries. The eastern apse has a Deisis with St.Stephanus taking the place of St.John the Baptist. Another small apse shows St.Joseph holding the child in one hand and a saw in the other. In a second apse is the figure of the prophet Daniel in the lion's den. On the northern wall a fresco represents the coronation of the Virgin by the Trinity, with nine miter-capped Maronite Patriarchs looking on. At the entrance of this church is a cave where a naturally preserved body can be seen, mistakenly believed by the local population to be that of Patriarch Youssef Tyan. Not far from here is the chapel of Mar Marina, famous saint of the valley, where 18 Maronite patriarchs are buried. Interestingly, the Patriarch Tyan is listed among those buried here.
Built by the monastic order of the Cistercian during the Crusader period in the 12th and 13th centuries, this monastery has been under the authority of the Orthodox Church since the early 17th century. It can be reached by turning east off the highway about 8km south of Tripoli. A sign marks the turn.
The arrangement of structures around the cloister's courtyard is characteristic of a Cistercian monastery plan. Both the church of Our Lady of Balamand with its unique bell tower, and the present entrance to the monastery, originally the refectory, were built in the 12th century. In the 13th century the Cistercians constructed the Great Hall of the Monks that today serves an attractive concert venue. The Chapter house, also built in the 13th century, was reconstructed sometime after 1604 by the Orthodox monks, who found that most of its vault had collapsed after the fall of the County of Tripoli in 1289. The structure was made into a church dedicated to Saint George between the 17th and the 19th centuries.
The monastery possesses many manuscripts and beautiful icons, some painted by masters from the region. The altar screen of the church of Our Lady of Balamand, probably dating to the end of the 17th century, was carefully restored in 1994. Today as well known seminary with a distinguished library operates on the premises. The University of Balamand (Opened in 1988) is located nearby.
You can ascend the 3088-meter-high Qornet es-Sawda by foot or take advantage of a track suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles to cover most of the distance. Allow a whole day if you walk to the summit, watching for possible fog or rain squalls that might hamper visibility. Finding your way is not difficult, but a local guide can show you the best routes. In winter the peak is deep in snow, so plan this excursion for June through September.
The initial climb, following the path of the old chair lift, takes about two hours and brings you to a small hut at the head of the lift. From here you hike north along the top for another hour. The peak itself, marked by a metal tripod-like structure some four-meters high, has a panoramic view that extends to the sea on a clear day. Look for patches of snow and porcupine quills along the way.
Tripoli, Lebanon's second city is easy to reach on the northbound coastal highway. As soon as you enter its broad tree-lined avenues it is obviously that Tripoli has a character all its own. Here, too, the past has been preserved as in no other part of Lebanon, and the visitor will encounter architectural styles, customs and traditions that have all but disappeared elsewhere.
Tripoli's colorful history began in the 9th century B.C. when the Phoenicians established a small port in the Al-Mina area. The site itself, however, was inhabited as early as the 14th century B.C. Sharing in the history of the eastern Mediterranean coast, Tripoli was dominated in turn by the Persians, by the successors of Alexander the Great and then by the Romans beginning in 64-63 B.C. in 551 A.D. an earthquake and tidal wave destroyed the city.
Taken by the Muslim Arabs in 638 A.D, Tripoli was occupied by the Crusaders for 180 years starting in 1109.In the process the city suffered great damage, particularly to the rich library of the "House of Science" with its thousands of volumes. When the Muslims regained power in 1289 the new Mamluke rulers erected a city around the Crusader fortress, and many of these religious and secular buildings still survive today. During the 400-year Turkish Ottoman rule, ending in 1918, Tripoli retained its prosperity and commercial importance.
Ehden is a large prosperous town with pleasant weather, good restaurants and many waterfalls. Its lively town square or midan is a popular meeting place for residents on warm summer evenings.
Among the sights to be seen in Ehden is the mummified body of Youssef Karam, national hero of the 19th century who lies in state in the village church. Nearby is Deir Mar Sarkis, which has several small chapels, the oldest dating to the 13th and 14th centuries. There is also the ancient church of Mar Mema, built in the 8th century. Higher up is Saydet el Hosn, which was probably built upon the remains of an ancient building. From here you get a good view of the Cedar grove and the valley extending all the way of Tripoli.
Horsh Ehden, a nature reserve 4km east of Ehden was established in 1992. This is a protected zone for hundreds of unique indigenous botanical specimens including rate trees and flowering plants. It also shelters some of the few surviving animal wildlife species in the country.
In the Qadisha valley is the cave monastery and church of Mar Antonios Qouzhayya. One of the largest monasteries in the valley, it has been in continuous use since the early Middle Ages. In the cave of Saint Antoine near the entrance you can see the chains that were used to hold victims of insanity in an attempt to cure them. The façade of the church is manmade but the interior is fashioned from a natural cave with carved niches.
In the 16th - 17th centuries the monks of Qouzhayya imported Lebanon's first printing presses, which were used to print the Psalms in Syriac. A later press, purchased in 1871, can be seen in a museum, which also houses a collection of sacred and ethnographic objects. At the entrance to the museum a shop sells books and religious souvenirs.