Bkirke, in a forest above jounieh, has been the winter residence of Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch since 1830. This handsome redroofed structure in a setting of pine trees was built in 1983 around an earlier monastery founded in 1703.
Above the Italianate main portal is the Patriarchate's coat of arms with Arabic, Syriac and Latin inscriptions of an old testament quotation: "the glory of Lebanon has been given to him".
Visitors are welcome and will be shown the courtyard, the reception hall where the Patriarch holds his audiences, a portrait gallery and the church with its columns of fossilized stone.
The historical inscriptions found at the Nahr El Kalb (Dog river, the Lycus of the Romans) represent a unique combination of history anf geography. In distant antiquity the steep cliffs here made it an impassable barrier. Later the Assyrians and Romans managed to overcome the difficulty by building a road and a bridge. In modern times the Lebanese blasted a tunnel through the rock to accommodate the coastal highway, changing forever the historic aspect on the site.
The Mamluke Period bridge seen today has been reconstructed several times, most recently by Emir Bashir ChehabII in 1809. The other bridge, with three arches, was built by Wassa Pasha mutassarrif of Mount Lebanon between 1883 and 1892. A total of 17 plaques has been traced, all on the south bank expect for one on the north bank. The single stele on the opposite side of the river was the work of the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuncadnezzar II. Rameses II left no less than three inscriptions between 1290 and 1224 BC, when he marched into Phoenicia. Five steles mark expeditions made by Assyrian Kings, one og whom was Assarhaddon (680-627 BC). In Roman times the third gallic Legion under Emperor Caracalla (211-217 AD) left stele marking road work carried out here.
There are two inscriptions in Greek. One is illegible but the other commemorates more road and engineering work. This was accomplished in 382 by Proclus, Byzantine governor of Phoenicia under Theodose the Grand (388-395). Another stele commemorates the expedition that Napoleon III sent to Lebanon in 1860-1861. Among the 20th century inscriptions, one records that french troops under General Gouraud took Damascus in 1920. Two others dated 1919 and 1930 report that the British Desert Corps took Damascus, Homs and Aleppo in October 1918. The British and French occupation of Beirut and Tripoli in October 1918 is recorded as well.
Besides the 17 steles left before Lebanon's independence, there is one marking the Evacuation of Foreign armies from Lebanon on December 31, 1946, and another commemorating the French war dead.
Faqra, approach through a labyrinth of limestone formations known as "houses of ghosts", is known for its temples and its good skiing. The temple site is also the venue of a summer cultural festival.
The temples od Qalaat faqra at 1,550 meters are the most extensive Roman ruins of all Mount Lebanon. The site is dominated by a huge tower 15 meters square, which originally had a third story and a pyramid shaped roof. An interior staircase leads up to top. A greek inscription on the northeast corner of the tower and another above the door indicate that the building was restored by the Roman Emperor Claudius in 43AD.
About 50 meters north-west of the tower is a large altar, probably associated with the tower itself. Not far away is a colonaded altar. The main temple, dedicated to a "very great God", is a rewarding place to investigate, with its restored columns and the remains of an altar. It had a square courtyard which was surrounded by a colonnade on three sides.
Continuing down the slope you reach the small temple, dedicated to "the syrian Goddess" a local form of the goddess Atargatis. Also note the basin in the floor and the benches along the side wall. This temple was made into a church in the 4th century AD. The ski trails of the Faqra Club, located south of Ouyoun es-Siman (Faraya-Mzaar) at 1,750 meters, overlook the sea and the bay of Beirut. Members only, but special arrangements are available for tourists.
Also in the Faqra area is the Jisr el Hajar or natural bridge carved over the centuries by wind and water. The 34 meter bridge is so perfect it is hard to believe it was created by nature.
Faraya-Mzaar is chiefly known for the excellent skiing facilities in nearby Ouyoun es-Siman, but a lot goes on in summer too, when the mountain town enjoys a comfortable climate. The ski resort has an elevation of 1891 meters with the highest run starting at 2463 meters. These slopes overlook one of the finest views in Lebanon, encompassing the Beqaa, Mount Hermon, laqlouq, the Cedars and the coast.
Harissa can be reached from Jounieh by cable car, a nine-minute ride that takes you up 600 meters from the coast to the precipitous mountain top. A less breathtaking approach is by roadfrom Jounieh. Near the cable car terminus is a church and a spectacular cathedral begun in 1970, as well as the famous landmark Statue of the Virgin Mary erected in 1908. Inside the base of the statue is a chapel while outside a spiral staircase leads to the top.
Within walking distance is the Greek Catholic Monastery of St.Paul and the many-domed church of St.Paul begun in 1947. The golden walls inside the church sre covered with beautiful Byzantine-style wall mosaics that represent Christ Pantocrater, the Virgin wearing a medallion, the communion of the Apostles, the church fathers and scenes from the Bible.
The area around Harissa is home to some 20 Churches and monasteries. The oldest Saint Anthony of Padua, was built by the Fransiscans on land granted by Emir Fakhreddine II in 1628 and confirmed by the Al-Khazen sheikhs. Nearby Bzoummar is the site of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal residence, while the Patrirchate of the Syrian Catholic Community is in Sharfeh. Harissa is also the seat of the Papal Nuncio in Lebanon.
Located north Beirut, a large sign just beyond the tunnel on the coastal highway indicates the right turn to Jeita. The Jeita caves and galleries, known to man since Paleolithic times, rank among the world's most exciting underground displays. Although only a portion of the nearly 9km of explored caves is accessible to the public, the visitor still gets an impressive sampleof its wonders.
The lower cavern and its subterranean river is the principal source of the Nahr el-Kalb (Dog River). The cave was opened to the public in 1958 after work was completed enabling visitors to see the grotto from flat bottomed boats. In january 1969 the dry fossil galleries above the river grotto were inaugurated. Fitted with walkways and dramatic lighting, visitors could wander through these magical stone halls at their own pace. Jeita was closed during the war but reopened in 1996 after facilities at the site were completely rebuilt and refurbished by the Ministry of Tourism.
The lower was discovered in 1836 by an American missionary, the Reverend William Thomson. Expeditions in 1873 and 1874 reached 800 then 1.060 meters into the cave. Between 1892 and 1940, explorations by English, American and French teams extended the known depth to 1750 meters. Starting in the 1940's Lebanese speleologists systematically continued investigations of the cave system, reaching a distance of nearly seven kilometers at the lower level. Together the upper and lower grottos cover 9.040 meters. Plan on about two hours for your visit, which includes an excellent film presentation. You'll find shops, a snack bar, a restaurant and restrooms.
Both the upper and lower galleries aer open in summer, but because of seasonal rains the lower section is sometimes closed in winter.
Once a small quiet town, since the 1970's Jounieh has grown into a densely built-up area of high-rise buildings, hotels and large resort complexes. Its beautiful bay, excellent restaurants, night spots and shopping attract visitors from all over. To get a sense of Jounieh's style, try strolling down the main street of the old town near the seafront. Enjoy the tropical palm trees, glitzy restaurants and the shops. At the same time , a traditional flavor remains; two hundreds of Jounieh's old houses have been earmarked for preservation.
Driving north along the town's old seacoast road towards Maameltein, you will find a well-preserved Roman Bridge across the River Ghazir, which once formed the boundary between the Crusarder County of Tripoli and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. In Maameltein, the Casino du liban tempts visitors with slot machines, American Roulette, Black jack, Baccarat and Casino Stud Poker, as well as restaurants, a theater and a nightclub.
Just south of Jounieh, Kaslik has its own special identity thanks to its yacht harbor, beaches, art galleries, anf posh restaurants. The yacht harbor, which belongs to the Automobile and Touring club of Lebanon, has space for about 100 boats of all sizes, with room for visiting yachts as well. The club also organizes annual car rallies.
Less than one kilometer north of the yacht harbor is the Shrine of St.George. Set in an ancient funerary cave known as Al-Batieh, it was made into a place of worship and Christian pilgrimage in the Middle ages. Here supplicants light candies to St.George and the Virgin Mary, or bathe in the waters to ensure fertility. This is also the traditional site of St.George's battle with the dragon. At Sarba above Jounieh is the Greek Catholic monastery of the holy savior. It was built in 1883 on a Mamluke period fortress, which itself was constructed on a Roman temple. The principal monastic building rests on the 6 to 7 meter walls of this vast Roman temple probably dedicated to the god Serapis. A bas relief head of Apis, the bull-dog, can be found in the middle of the north wall of the cella, in the third course of masonry. It faces to the left, not outward. The original temple probably had a subterranean passage through the cliff to the grotto of St.George, far below.
Nearby Zouk Mkayel village, although swallowed up by the growing metropolitan area of the capital, still preserves its old town center with traditional houses. Zouk Mkayel is known fot its weaving, including brocades and traditional stripes. A number of weaving workshops can be seen in th town's ols souk, an attractive traditional street restored in 1995. In addition to artisanal workshops, there are cafés, restaurants, shops and terraces overlooking the sea and mountains. There are signs at the approach of the Souk, located about 10 minutes up the mountain from the coastal highway. In zouk Mkayel they also make delicate almond marzipan in the shape of flowers.