The favorite village of the Lebanese

Machghara, where everything flows from the spring

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 a video on each village to help you decide on your favorite. After Amchit, Barouk, Baskinta, Becharreh, Cana, Ghazir, Hebbariyeh, and Hermel, here is Machghara. Voting will remain open on our website until July 28th.

The springs of Aïn Abi Zeid and Tannour cascade together in Machghara. Photos by Anne Ilcinkas

"Ya Amar Machghara”, O Moon of Machghara! This is how Lebanon’s national pride and most famous singer Fayrouz serenaded the moon over the stunning village of Machghara, in the West Bekaa, giving it a special place in the Lebanese heritage.

Machghara has known a turbulent history, but it has managed to preserve many monuments of its past and today it is rising once again from the ashes, as it experiences an economic recovery.

Walking its narrow streets or climbing its ubiquitous stairs, visitors to Machghara can easily dream of a time when this village, which offers a breathtaking view of Lake Qaraoun, was a place of passage for Ottoman caravans. Here, a small river burbles in a rhythm that seems unique to the village, creating a dreamy ambiance woven by the confluence of some thirty springs, that take the form of everything from small cascades to narrow streams.

It is these springs that gave the village its name. According to some chroniclers, the name of Machghara derives from Mash'arta, with the root, Sha'ar, meaning “gush” in the ancient Phoenician language.

The abundance of these natural waterways owes itself to the fact that the village sits on the eastern slope of Mount Lebanon, along the Yammouneh fault.

The spirit of tanners
In Machghara, the clear water streams make their way between the old walls of the village, whispering stories of days gone by. The stories of tanners who labored to fashion leather into bags, shoes and carpets. The free flowing water cleaned the leather, and provided a gentle accompaniment to the din of the engines of some forty tanneries which in times gone by, each employed 90 workers.

At the turn of an alley, a visitor can, too, imagine young maidens carrying their water jars to and from the nearby fountain.

This is what Machghara once was, a village of hardworking yet daring and forward looking people. But the village, inhabited by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians and Shiite Muslims, paid a heavy price during the Lebanese civil war, internal strife and the Israeli occupation. Many of its inhabitants fled to other parts of the country, or left Lebanon altogether, mainly to the United States. Its tanneries were abruptly shut down, with nothing left except some abandoned, machinery. The village has paid a brutal price for Lebanon’s recent history.

But today, despite everything, Machghara has recovered by reorienting itself towards agriculture, planting crops of peaches, apples, pears and grapevines. It is also host to a number of water purification services for the Litani River and the Bekaa region.

It is especially the summer season that Machghara really comes to life, when the village’s expats come back to town, bringing the population from 8,000 up to 14,000 in the summer. With its dry and cool climate, at least in the evening, and its calm and tranquility, Machghara is nothing less than a haven.

The hometown of Zaki Nassif
Another attractive aspect of the village is its cultural and social diversity, perhaps best embodied by the bell towers standing tall alongside the minarets, resonating together harmoniously at the different hours of prayer.

Machghara is also a fertile ground for artists and intellectuals. One of them was the great composer and musician Zaki Nassif (1916-2004), who was born in the village. Though he left Machghara at the age of six for Beirut, the author of the famous Rajeh, Rajeh yitaammar Lebnan, a song that is today an all but official Lebanese hymn, he would always return home for the summer holidays.

Thanks to the Association for the Protection of Natural Sites and Old Buildings in Lebanon (APSAD), his house has been transformed into a museum that attracts not only tourists but also budding talents who attend music lessons in the school that has been established on its premises.

In December 2012, the heirs of the great composer donated the family home to APSAD on condition it is opened to the public, to share the musical and cultural heritage of the late singer. Today, the two-story house, built by the composer's grandfather and his brother, consists of two buildings, one built between 1850 and 1860, the other at the end of the 19th century. This dual heritage now finds shelter under a common roof, giving the house a very distinctive appearance. The old building was restored to preserve its original identity and retain its graceful charm, with the original tile and stone work. On the deck, the stones were coated with lime, just as they were in Zaki Nassif’s time, allowing history to seep from the walls of the house. On the ground floor, the reception area and the cafeteria were once the pantry rooms in which, in the past, Mouneh (provisions) were stored, while the kitchen was kept intact, with its stove, fireplace, and ash drawer.

Behind the intense blue shutters, the student musicians are divided into five classes.

More than fifteen permanent employees live locally, supported by an additional staff during the summer, to run the conservatory. They perpetuate the legacy of this great artist, restoring to Machghara its cultural and artistic color.

Fact sheet :

Population : 8,000 in winter, 14,000 in summer

Mayor : Boutros Debs (co-Mayor Hajj Abdallah Hadla)

Prominent figures from the village : Zaki Nassif, the late composer and musician, is considered the pride and joy the village. The late TV host Riad Charara is also among the village’s prominent figures known for his evening programs during the golden age of television. We should also mention singer Georgette Sayegh, as well as TV host Tony Baroud, both natives of the village.

Restaurants : There is no rowdy nightlife, but Machghara offers many village activities such as folk festivals and youth gatherings. A new restaurant has just opened near the Zaki Nassif Garden, called Layali Jdoudna (03-705402) and offering traditional food. There are also small cafes and old-fashioned bakeries with the lingering, peppery scent of thyme where you can taste the famous sfiha. Le Chalet du Lac restaurant in Saghbine offers a beautiful view of Lake Qaraoun and is located within walking distance from Machghara (08-670022).

Accommodation options : the Blue Lake Hotel (71-999592) is located nearby. In addition, a large football field that meets international standards has recently been built.

Climate: The city is at an altitude of almost 1,050 m, more than 200 m above the course of the Litani River. It has a cold climate in winter and is hot in summer, with very low humidity making temperatures bearable in the summer season

Not to be missed

* Visiting the ancestral family home of Zaki Nassif, now transformed into a museum and music school. Located near a fountain, the old home also houses a cinema, an exhibition of interesting crafts belonging to the composer's nephew and traditional family items, such as an old clay oven, that is unique in design. A visitor can also enjoy coffee and refreshments on the ground floor.

* The Greek-Catholic church with its courtyard framed by millennia old trees and irrigated by two springs.

* The one remaining tannery that still exists, although in ruins, with its old machines, a witness of a glorious time.

* The Imam el-Hussein mosque built by former MP Hussein Mansour facing the waterfalls from two major springs: Ain Bou Zeid and Tannour.

* Nabeh Bou Zeid: The great spring that flows from a cave in Machghara and forms a waterfall with the Tannour spring. There, zajal singing evenings were held with the great Zaghloul el-Damour.

How to get there

Machghara is located at 82 km from Beirut, one and a half hours from the capital. When taking the Damascus road, head through Dahr el-Baïdar then turn right, before reaching Chtaura. We cross villages such as Kabb Elias, Kherbet Anafar and Saghbine. It can also be reached via the southern route through Saida, Jezzine and Kfarhouna.

"Ya Amar Machghara”, O Moon of Machghara! This is how Lebanon’s national pride and most famous singer Fayrouz serenaded the moon over the stunning village of Machghara, in the West Bekaa, giving it a special place in the Lebanese heritage.Machghara has known a turbulent history, but it has managed to preserve many monuments of its past and today it is rising once again from the ashes, as it...