The favorite village of the Lebanese

Becharreh, between angels and cherubs

For the fourth straight year, readers of L'Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon and around the world will have the chance to vote for the “favorite village of the Lebanese.” This year, 10 new villages are competing. L’OLJ will produce a report and video on each village to help you choose. After Amchit and Barouk, here is Baskinta. Voting will remain open on our website until July 28.

• The main square of Becharreh and Mar Saba church. Photo by Joe Nouhra

In his book about the archeological mission he led to Lebanon in the 19th century, “Mission of Phoenicia”, French scholar Ernest Renan notes “the Maronites’ tendency to place Eden in their Holy Valley”. And indeed, Becharreh’s inhabitants called to all the saints, prophets, Christian martyrs, Virgin Mary, angels and cherubs to place them in their valley and on their cliffs. To top it off, they also called on the Lord to protect the cedar forest near this village, some 1,500 meters above sea level. Their entreaties was apparently heard, and the forest in now called the Cedar of God.

The history of Maronite Christians can not simply be read in the pages of a book. It is also to be found in the caves and on the rock formations of Becharreh and its surroundings. According to Father Hani Tok, the location of churches and monasteries is not coincidental. “God’s throne sits at the top, over the cedar forest named after Him. A little further down, the Valley is surrounded by prophets such as St. Daniel (Hadath al-Jebbe), Mount St. Elie (Hadchit and Blawza), St. Chaaya (Bazoun) and St. Elisée at Becharreh. Then comes the Virgin Mary, who represents the transition between the Old and the New Testament. On two other levels, sit monks and martyrs,” he explains.

So starting from the bottom of the Valley all the way to the top of the mountain, Becharreh’s inhabitants, as the good Christians they are, climb the ladder of holiness to reach the divine at the top. The village saint, Mar Saba, is somewhere in the middle, at the heart of Becharreh near the residents and the bustling souk. Around the cathedral named after him, images of Eastern saints, some from Becharreh itself, line the walls below the stained glass windows. Less imposing than the cathedral, but much warmer and more welcoming, stands the church of Mar Geryès, a typical Maronite church in the simplicity and modesty of its architecture.

Of all the Maronite places of worship, the ones that best explain the community’s history are the famous caves and grottos nestled in the Holy Valley. This is where hermits used to go on retreats and where Maronites fleeing persecution found refuge. The Holy Valley has been part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and is considered the cradle of the Maronite religion. The convent of Qannoubine was the first residence of the patriarchate when the order was created in the Saint-Elisée convent. Furthermore, the first printing press of the Middle East is in the monastery of St. Antoine of Qozhaya. The cedar forest, with its natural spirit, snow, streams and the pure silence of the mountain peaks where time seems to have stopped, is also registered as a World Heritage Site.

For Joseph Ishac, an MP from the region, Becharreh’s two UNESCO sites prove the wealth of where he’s from. “The village is not only spiritual and religious. It is also full of cultural, natural and heritage sites,'' he says. ''These sites attract tourists from around the world, and since the Cedar Festival was launched, the region has reclaimed its cultural and artistic role as well as its importance among summer destinations.”

Arts, sports and Becharreh’s apples
Becharreh sits on the western slope of Mount Lebanon, on Mount Makmel to be precise, which happens to be Lebanon’s highest mountain. It goes all the way to Qornet el-Sawda, the highest peak in the Middle East at 3,088 meters above sea level. Nestled on the side of the Valley of the Saints, the village–a must see for religious tourists–also offers visitors a very subtle transition from the sacred to the profane.

“Welcome to Becharreh’s birthplace,” says tour guide Johnny Nehme; a revealing slip of the tongue he corrects immediately. “Welcome to Gibran Khalil Gibran's birthplace… The closeness between the village and the famous artist is such that it can be confusing," he explains with a laugh.

Gibran’s home is a modest mountain residence with only a few rooms, showing what family life was like and how close bonds were at the time the author and painter was alive. It is a reminder of Lebanon’s past. Gibran spent most of his life abroad, but according to his wishes, his remains were brought back to Becharreh.

The Gibran Khalil Gibran Museum was created in 1975 and later expanded. Today, there are 16 rooms that showcase his life and works. His writing and art blended Western techniques and Oriental subjects, showing the spirituality of a man who was in love with the Absolute and the Truth. His mausoleum is underground in a room carved out of rock. His ashes rest in a small crack in the wall surrounded by cedar wood. The author of “The Prophet” is, of course, a prophet in his own village, “the homeland of his heart,” as he called it.

There are also many activities to be enjoyed by visitors who prefer sports to art: hiking, paragliding, biking, ATV rides and, when there’s snow, skiing as well.

Traces of winter persist even in during the summer. Fog can wrap the village like a halo all year round. The apple farmers of Becharreh wait impatiently for the fog. If the apples remain green until the end of August, starting September, the fog will make them blush. Becharreh’s apples could be even more enticing than the one Eve had the audacity to taste and offer to Adam. But in Becharreh, there is nothing to fear.

Fact sheet

Number of inhabitants: about 8,000 residents in winter; between 15,000 and 20,000 in the summer.

President of the municipal council: Freddy Keyrouz.

Area: 62 square kilometers.

Altitude: 1 450 meters.

Where to stay: there are many hotels, some of which are very good. We suggest :

El-Naher 03-970225

Zaytuna 70-784060

Al-Rif 06-672090

Mississippi 06-671020

River Roc 03-576995

Sabagh 06-671217

Al-Challal 03-158641

Raffoul 06-671579

Makhlouf 71-775543

Montagnard 03-571154

RTC 03-432226

TRC Sweet 03-432226

Al-Atlal 03-663076

Las Galinas 71-694514

Jesser al-Amar 03-940511

Al-Chir 03-457815

Ahla Jalsseh 03-259220

La caverne 06-672402

3ichana 03-468606

Rasse el-Ine 70-682876

Nebee Mar Semaan 70-736278

Themat al-Jabal 03-363852

Al-Seyar 03-191340

Janat al-Arz 03-743760

Café des Cèdres 03-522962

Bourj al-Arz 03-247764

Restaurants: there are many Lebanese and western restaurants in the village and surrounding area.

Climate: cold in winter, pleasant in summer.

Not to miss

* The old churches of the village:

• Mar Saba

• Our Lady of the Assumption

• Saint Jean

• Saint Joseph for Carmelite Fathers

• Sacred Heart of Jesus

• Our Lady of Milk

• Mar Geryès

• St. Christopher

• Our Lady of Saydanaya

• Sainte-Moura

• St. Anthony of Padua

• Saint-Joseph-de-la-Colline

• Our Lady of Light

• Church of the Transfiguration

• Our Lady of the Cedars

• Church of the Holy Family

• Saint-Charbel region Baal

• Saint-Charbel Jalsé

• Saint-Simeon-of-Stylite

• Our Lady of the region Marj Bécharré

* Hiking and other sports activities:

• Skiing

• Hiking

• Paragliding

• Climbing

• Bike.

* The museum of Gibran Khalil Gibran and his birthplace.

* The cedar forest / cedars of God.

* The Holy Valley.

* You must taste the Becharreh apples.

How to get there?

Becharreh is 110 kilometers from Beirut. If you’re coming from the capital, follow the highway to Tripoli then at Chekka take the fork to Amioun then Kousba and Tourza. At the army checkpoint, take a slight right to be on the road that leads to Bécharré.

In his book about the archeological mission he led to Lebanon in the 19th century, “Mission of Phoenicia”, French scholar Ernest Renan notes “the Maronites’ tendency to place Eden in their Holy Valley”. And indeed, Becharreh’s inhabitants called to all the saints, prophets, Christian martyrs, Virgin Mary, angels and cherubs to place them in their valley and on their cliffs. To top it...