The cedars in History
As remote as they are, the cedars are not untouched by history. The grove we see today descends from an immense primeval forest of cedars and other trees such as cypress, pine and oak that once covered most of Lebanon including part of its East facing slopes.
The cedars is an historical entity mentioned often in the Bible and other ancient texts, often playing an important parting the culture, trade and religious observances of the ancient Middle East. Serious exploitation of these forests began in the third millennium B.C. with coastal towns, such as Byblos growing Wealthy from the timber trade with Egypt.
Over the centuries, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians made expeditions to Mount Lebanon for timber or extracted tributes of wood from the coastal cities of Canaan-Phoenician. The Phoenicians themselves made use of the cedar, especially for their merchant fleets. King Solomon requested large supplies of cedar wood, along with architects and builders from King Hiram of Tyre to build his temple. Nebuchadnezzar boasted on a cuneiform inscription: "I brought for building, mighty cedars, which I cut down with my pure hands on Mount Lebanon".
Prized for its fragrance and durability, the length of the great logs made cedar wood especially desirable. Cedar was important for shipbuilding and was used for the roofs of temples, to construct tombs and other major buildings. The Egyptians used cedar resin for mummification, and pitch was extracted from these trees for waterproofing and caulking. In the second century AD., the Roman Emperor Hadrian attempted to protect the forest with boundary markers bearing inscriptions, most carved into living rock, others in the form of separate engraved stones. Today over 200such inscriptions have been recorded allowing scholars to make an approximate reconstruction of the ancient forest boundaries. Two of these inscriptions, carved in abbreviated Latin, can be seen at the Museum of the American University of Beirut.
In the centuries after Hadrian, Lebanon's trees were used extensively as fuel, especially for lime burning kilns. Within the Middle Ages, mountain villagers cleared forests for farmland, using the wood for fuel and construction.The Ottomans, in the 19th century destroyed much of the forest cover and during World War II British troops used the wood to build a railroad between Tripoli and Haifa.
All the inscriptions of Hadrian are related to the karts. They are engraved or resting on a Karstic support (therefore running erosion and erasing danger). Their distribution covers the whole Lebanese mountain at the north of Beirut. They are left on rocks or big stones either on cliff flanks or nearby footpaths. They stack up from starting 250 till 2000m of altitude. Nowhere else had the emperor such inscriptions engraved. Thus they represent a unique world Heritage. Dr Hani Abd el Nour "Decade", a publication of the Lebanese British friends of the National Museum.
The Cedar tree Itself Cedrus Libanus
Of the immense forests of history only isolated patches of cedars are found in Lebanon today. Growing at a high elevation, often in craggy difficult-to-reach locations, these majestic trees still stir the imagination. In the north of the country, stands of cedars grow in the "Arz el Rab" forest in Bsharre others at the Horsh Ehden Natural Reserve.
More inaccessible are the trees near Hadeth al-Jubbeh, whose shape has been changed by trimming, and the cedars near Tannourine and the Qamou'a forest. In Jaj near Laqlouq isolated specimens of cedars are still scattered on the rocky peaks above the town. Deep in the Shouf district on top of Mount Barouk, cedars some 350years old grow in an enclosed grove. These trees, which are pristine condition, can be easily admired from outside the protective wall. Above the town of Maaser esh-Shouf, there is another cedar forest, which has an extended view of the Beqaa Valley. Cedar trees also grow in near-by Ain Zhalta.
The slow-growing cedar, with its long life span, requires at least 40 years before it can even produce fertile seeds.
There are three main kinds of Cedars in the world: Cedrus Deodora, Cedrus Atlantica and Cedrus Libanus.
Cedars of the Shouf
The Shouf cedars natural reserve is the largest to be found in Lebanon. It's occupying 1500ha; it is divided into four forests: A'in Zhalta-Bmahray, Barouk, Maasser el-Shouf and Niha. Blanketed with oak forest on its northeastern slopes and Juniper and oak forests on its southern slopes, the reserve's most famous attractions are its three magnificent cedar forests of Maasser el Shouf, Barouk, and A'in Zhalta-Bmahray. These cedar forest accounts for a quarter of the remaining cedar trees in Lebanon, and some trees are estimated to be 2000 years old. The size of the reserve makes it a suitable location for the conversation of medium size mammals, such as the wolf and the Lebanese jungle cat, as well as various species of mountain birds, reptiles and plants. This reserve is a popular hiking and trekking destination, with trails catering to all level of fitness. Bird watching, mountain biking and snow shoeing is also popular. From the summit of the rugged mountains, eastward to the Beqaa' valley, Anti Lebanon and the Hermon Mountain, and westward toward the Mediterranean Sea.
Cedars of Bsharre (Arz el Rab)
The most famous cedars, known as Arz el Rab or Cedars of the Lord are those of Bsharre. Only this grove, the oldest in Lebanon, gives an accurate idea of the stature and magnificence these trees attained in antiquity. About 375 cedars of great age stand in a sheltered glacial pocket of Mount Makmel. Four of them, many hundreds years old, have reached a height of 35 meters and their trunks are between 12 and 14 meters around. They have straight trunks and strong branches that spread their regular horizontal boughs like fans.
Also among the inhabitants of the forest are some thousand young trees, planted in recent decades to ensure the future of this national icon.
Like any other treasure of great antiquity, the Bsharre cedar grove requires special care and protection. Concern for this modern remnant of historic cedars goes back to 1873-83, the time of the Mutassaref Rustom Basha, when the 102-hectare grove was surrounded by a high stone wall. Financed by Great Britain's Queen Victoria, before her visit to Lebanon in 1898, the wall protects against one of the cedar's natural enemies: goats that enjoy feasting on young saplings. More recently, a "Committee of the Friends of the Cedar Forest", organized in 1985, is attempting to control the damage and disease wrought by both man and nature that afflicts the trees.
To improve the general health and appearance of the forest, the Committee has removed tons of dead wood and fertilized the soil. Various pets and disease are being treated and lightning conductors have been installed for further protection. Three thousand meters of attractive pathways have been built so visitors can enjoy the grove without causing damage.
Also due for care and attention is a Maronite chapel in the center of the forest. Built in 1843 when these cedars are the location of a special annual celebration on the 6th of August.
The Lamartine Tree dried up by the lightning and subsequently turned into a sculptural monument titled "The Trinity" by the son of Bsharre rudy Rahme.
Sometimes, one sees from up there paragliding amateurs.
Climb Lebanon Highest Peak
You can ascend the 3088-meter high Qornet es-Sawda (or Black Horn), by foot or take advantage of a rough track suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles.
Allow a whole day if you want to make the entire ascent and return by foot. The initial climb, following the path of the 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. Look for patches of last winter's snow and porcupine quills along the way. An easier way to the top is to take a road suitable for four wheel drive vehicles that starts at Dahr el-Qadib on the highest point of the road between The Cedars and Yammouneh in the Beqaa.
From the summit, which is marked by a large metallic tripod, you have a panoramic view of the coast of Lebanon towards the west. It is said that on a clear day the island of Cyprus can be seen.
From the cedars, a summer excursion takes you east over the mountain towards the Beqaa valley to Ouyoun Orghoch. Here tented restaurants cluster around a large spring fed wetland where trout is farmed. Flowing Cold water keeps drinks chilled on the warmest days. In the spring and early summer except to be presented with snow instead of ice for your arak.
Skiing in the Cedars
The scenery and the quality of the snow make the Cedars an exceptional skiing venue. The pistes form a natural amphitheater.
And the high elevation means the season usually lasts from December through April.
A French army ski school opened here in the 1930's and the handsome buildings, which now belong to the Lebanese army, can still be seen near the cedar grove. The chair lift, installed in 1953, is no longer in use but the main runs are equipped with five T-bar lifts.
There are also four baby slopes with lifts.
Ski rentals are available from local shops, which also arrange ski lessons with qualified instructors.
Snack bars, hotels and restaurants service the ski area. More facilities are available at the cedars "village" and in Bsharre, 15 minutes down the mountain.
In The Cedars Area
The Cedars resort is set in an area of unusual natural and historical interest. In only 30 minutes you can drive from the crest of the mountain which soars nearly 3,000 meters above the resort, down to the bottom of the steep-sided Qadisha gorge at less than 1,000 meters. Within this area are rivers, springs, waterfalls, caves and other natural formations as well as rock-cut churches, monasteries and interesting villages to visit. There is always the promise of a friendly welcome from the hospitable people who live there.