Afqa is the sacred source of the Adonis River, whre the waters emerge from a huge grotto in a cliff 200 meters high. It is here that the myth of Venus and Adonis was born. The story goes that while out hunting, Adonis was killed by a wild boar. Venus who was his lover, tried to save him but she was too late. And so it is the blood of Adonis that each spring turns the torrential river to red.
Across from the grotto are the remains of the Roman temples of Venus. Walk down the stone steps at the at the side of the structure to appreciate its massive size. A curved tunnel, still visible beneath the foundations, was used to channel water. Growing from between the temple's great stones is a fig tree with bits of material tied to its branches, a carryover from ancient tradition which attributed special powers to this spot.
Although the temple was destroyed by the Christian Emperor Constantine (285-337 AD), it was later rebuilt by Julian the Apostate (360-363). The Adonis-Astarte fertility rite continued in Lebanon into the 5th century AD. Afqa is reached via Qartaba, turning right at the town of Majdal. The final half kilometer of road is a little rough.
The main attraction in Annaya is the St.Maroun Monastery and the hermitage of Lebanon's saint Charbel, beatified in 1965 and canonized in 1989. Many miraculous cures are attributed of St.Charbel, whose body is said to have remained intact after the death in 1898. In the monastery you can see the tomb of Charbel along with relics of his miracles. A small, vaulted-ceiling stone church is open to visitors and a souvenir shop sells religious objects, books and pictures.
Leaving the monastery, a road to the left leads up to the hermitage whre Charbel lived. Approached by a long set of wide stone stairs, this mountain top location affords a magnificent view. Inside the old building are various hermit's cells, including the room where Chabel died. A small square church is part of the hermitage.
Annaya attracts a steady stream of visitors so the area has a good selection of restaurants and snack shops. Both the monastery and the hermitage have restroom facilities. Sleeping quarters for overnight guests at the monastery are available at a modest fee.
Two km before Annaya is Torzaya, known for its interesting cave. The cave entrances are in an idyllic valley below the church of St.Theresa, about 2km downhill from the mosque in the center of town. Another half kilometer downhill from the church brings you to the bridge and from here o footpath leads to a cave with many chambers and fantastic stone shapes which can be explored on foot. In winter and spring, when the cave is a channel for the rushing River Ibrahim, the water flows from beneath a natural arch out into a verdant river valley. In summer you can explore the cave on foot with the help of a flashlight.
This little valley is a beautiful spot for a picnic. A walk around the area might also turn up antique remnants such cave burial chambers, or elements from a Roman temple which probably once stood here.
This village at the head of the Nahr Ibrahim valley is notable for its splendid views and ancient remains. A cave chapel called Mar Boutros (St.Peter's) was adopted from a pagan tomb chamber partly cut from the rock in Greco-Roman days. Located towards the top of the village, the chapel sits at the back of a grassy terrace.
Entrance to the chapel is through an arched doorway. A modern altar with a niche has been installed against the north wall, while niches for sarcophagi are cut into the other walls. The uneven rocky floor is evidently part of the original cave. In the center is a rough stone pillar. The chapel of St.Simon can be reached by going south arount the great cliff of the cave chapel and following a trail leading from the village outskirts. This small church has been restored in modern times, but the foundations are still of the Crusader era. The key is kept in the door.
Above the cave in the forest onerlooking the village are six Roman Forestry Inscriptions dating from the time of Hadrian (117-138 AD). While the modernized chapel of St.Simon is some what disappointing, the location is superb, with magnificent craggy landscapes and sweeping valleys below. Continuing around the church you find a great gorge where a river rushes in spring. This roadway goes on to join the Roman Road at a place called Draj Mar Sem'an leading over the mountains to the town of yamouneh in the Beqaa valley. Stone-cut steps signal that you have found the place. Beside the steps a worn inscription in the limestone proclaims the road open by order of the Emperor Domitian in the first century AD. Sadly, further exploration here is not recommended due to the possibility of land mines.
Two km south of Aqoura on the east side of the road there is a natural bridge across the two entrances to the Roueiss cave, a favourite with speleologists. Below the cave you'll find a pleasant restaurant with fresh trout on offer. High on the cliff above Roueiss is the chapel of Mar Youhanna (St-John), which requires a stiff climb to reach. The cave goes back for 500 meters and has a small spring. Domestic remains left by cave dwellers from the Bronze Age to the Medieval period have been found here.
Byblos (biblical Gebal, modern jbeil) is one of the oldest continously inhabited cities in the world. Within its old town you can still seen medieval Arab and Crusader remains, while its archeological excavations, going back at least 7000 years, make it one of the most important sites in the country.
In the third millenium BC, the city owed its properity to trade in Cedar wood. And it is from late 1st millenium Byblos that we get the linear Phoenician alphabet. The fact of this Phoenician invention is reflected in the Greek name "Byblos", which originally meant "papyrus" and by extension,"book".
Archeologists have unearthed single room huts with crushed limestone floors where early stone Age inhabitants lived 7000 years ago. You can see also the foundations of the Baalat-Gebal or Lady of Byblos temple, built in 2800 BC when Byblos had close ties with Egypt. Other temples aer the early Bronze Age L-Shaped temple and the later Obelisk temple which was built on top of it. During the excavation process the Obelisk temple was moved to another location.
The Necropolis dates to the 2nd millenium BC and contains nine underground tombs of the Byblos kings. The most important is that of King Ahiram, whose sarcophagus bearing the earliest known inscription in the Phoenician alphabet can be seen at the Beirut National Museum.
Dominating the site is the Crusader castle erected by the khights of the cross in 1103. The Crusaders re-used Roman stonework and cut new stones to match the old. An impressive Roman Colonnade, the remains of a theater and a Roman Nymphaeum, or water sources, are located near the Crusader castle.
The Crusader church of St.John Baptist, known since the 18th century as St.John Mark, was begun around 1115. After 1170 the church was damaged by earthquakes and local conflicts which caused its western half to collapse. The present façade dates from the 19th century and the bell tower from the early 20th. The baptistery, erected in 1115 against the north wall of the church, is covered by a hemispheric dome sipported by four pillars.
Near the castle entrance is a charming square built by Emir Youssef Chehab (1770-1788), where you'll find a little mosque and a chapel called Our lady of the Gate. On the left as you go towards the port, look for the old Greek Orthodox Church of Saydet An-Najat (Our Lady of Deliverance). This massive medieval construction, with solid walls supported by buttresses, was built on the site of an older church dating from Byzantine times.
At the entrance of the port are two Crusader towers. The one on the north was renovated by the mamlukes, but only traces are left of the southern tower. The remains of ancient quays can be seen under the water at the bottom of the port. Near the castle in the town's 18th - 19th century souks is the Wax Museum of Byblos. Nearby the Fossil Museum features a complete collection of fossil types found in Lebanon.Opened by the General Directorate of Antiquities in 1997, hours are 9am to 1pm and 3-5 pm.
In the town's higher elevations are a number of veryy old churches such as the catacomb-like Mar Nohra cut from living rock and the Mar Semaan chapel.
About two km south of Byblos in the mouth of the river Fidar. In summer and fall when the river valley or "wadi" is dry, it is possible to cross the highway under the bridge and walk about 600 meters up the valley to the remains of a Roman Acqueduct. The construction crosses above the riverbed at a height of some 7meters and stretches nearly 8meters between the 2 banks. A second a acqueduct, rock-cut and completed with small black stones set in white mortar, can be seen further up the wadi on the north side.
Back on the coast look for a two-story medieval guard tower, which was formerly part of a coastal defense system established by the Mamlukes. Known as Bourj Al-Fidar, the tower makes use of ancient elements.
After this expedition, refreshments and food are available at a restaurant on the shore just north of the guard tower. In summer you are served outdoors on a small rocky island.
The heights above Byblos are known for their limestone formations containing fossilized fish, crutaceans, and specimens of flora and fauna. Laid down between 60 to 100 million years ago, when the region was still part of a seabed, these fossils have been studied by scientific organizations around the world. Specimens can be seen at the fossil Museum in Byblos, while in the village of Haqel there is a showroom where they can be purchased.
Millenia ago, when Cedar trees covered much of Mount Lebanon, the groves of Jaj were one of the earliest forests to be exploited. The profitable cedar wood was exported to Egypt and later to Jerusalem.
Splendid survivors of this forest are still scattered on the peaks above the town of Jaj. They are easy to spot. Rounded in shape and very dark green in color, the trees are not readily confused with the much smaller pines at lower elevations. For the best view go to the top of the town and look up. Trails exist up to these cedars, which grow out of what looks like bare rock in groups of two or three. It is advisable, however, to find a local guide for the excursion.
Also worth a visit is the beautiful stone Church of Mar Abda, located at the upper reaches of the town.
In all seasons Laqlouq is notable for its starkly beautiful scenery, dramatic views and interesting rock formations. Near the town is a large hotel, which is surrounded by flower gardens and pine trees. The air, especially in summer, is said to be like wine.
The laqlouq ski resort, established in the early 1960's, is known for its family atmosphere. At 1920 meters, it has good ski lifts, as well as chalets, nightclubs and other facilities.
Not far from the village is the spectacular sink hole of Houet Baatara, known locally as the Ballouaa or Drain, a walk over moderately rough terrain of about half a kilometerbrings you to a huge open cavern 255 meters deep with three natural bridges. A river disappears into the cave, never to be seen again, hence its name "drain", besides the sink hole, which will take a good deal of time to investigate, the surrounding hills invite exploration. This is a pleasant place for a picnic as well.
Located on the right of the Qartaba road before the turnoff to Ehmej, this site is easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled. A splendid isolated altar of great beauty, mashnaqa occupies a choice location on the sacred road from Byblos to Afqa, the source of the Adonis. The site gives an idea of the traditional biblical High-Places characteristic of the Canaanites and Phoenicians.
A large rectangular wall marks the sacred enclosure, in the middle of which rises an Altar. A square structure surrounded by columns, the altar encloses the bases of two earlier altars, arranged and reoriented by the Romans for their own rituals. The edifice has no door and worship was carried out by walking around the monument. The rocks overlooking the road leading to the site are carved with funerary niches, some of which still have their lids. Almost every tomb has sculpted scenes that relate to funeral rites or to the hunting prowess of the deceased.
A few hundred meters east of Mashnaqa a road to the southeast descends towards the village of Frat. About 5km further on is a lovely riverside spot known as "janneh" or paradise.
The village of Mayfouk is located in a lovely mountain area with verdant scenery.
Here is the Church of Our Lady of Elige, built of small stones and obviously of great antiquity. A Syriac inscription dating to 1276 inlaid in the wall of the church and written in estranghelo characters, reads: " In the name of the eternally living God, in the year 1588 of the Greek era, this Jacobite temple to the Mother of God, who prays for us, was finished. Amen. By the hands of the bishops Mark and John". The church is today owned by the Maronite community and according to Maronite history, was for a time the seat of their Patriarche.