One of the deepest and most beautiful valleys in Lebanon is indeed a world apart. At the bottom of this wild-sided gorge runs the Qadisha River whose source is in the Qadisha River at the foot of the Cedars. And above the famous Cedar grove stands Qornet es Sawda, lebanon's highest Peak.
In the heart of the Mount Lebanon range, below red-roofed villages that dot the mountainside, lays the Qadisha Valley. Cut deep into the mountainous rock, the Qadisha Valley has a unique landscape of steep walls and dizzying cliffs. Its quiet, tree-lined pathways and softly gurgling streams and waterfalls make it a true haven for visitors escaping the bustling sounds and sights of the city.
The word Qadisha comes from a Semitic root meaning "Holy" and Wadi Qadisha is the "Holy Valley". Filled with caves and rock shelters inhabited from the 3rd Millennium BC to the Roman Period, the valley is scattered with cave chapels, hermitages and monastries cut from rock. Since the Early Middle Ages generations of Monks, hermits, ascetics and anchorites found asylum here. These religious men, who belonged to the various confessions that grew out of medieval controversies over the nature of Christ, included the Nestorians, Monophysites, chalcedoniansand Monothelites. Even Moslem Soufis were found in this valley. They prayed in many languages: Greek, Arabic, Syriac and Ethiopian.
Qadisha has been a place of refuge for those fleeing religious persecution since the 5th century, and it houses some of the most important early Christian monastic settlements in the world. Rock-cut chapels, grottoes, and hermitages, many painted with frescoes dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, are tucked into the steep walls.
Among the important monasteries located in the valley is Deir Qannoubine, the seat of the Maronite patriarchs from 1400-1790 A.D. Seventeen Maronite patriarchs are buried in a chapel near the monastery, their names carved in Syriac script on a marble plaque identifying the site. Other notable Qadisha monasteries include Deir Mar Elisha, where the Lebanese Maronite Order was founded in 1696, and Deir Mar Antonios Qozhaya, home to Lebanon's first printing press.
High above the Qadisha Valley and the red-roofed village of Bcharré are the ancient Cedars of Lebanon. This small grove of Cedars, known as Arz Ar Rab ("Cedars of the Lord"), contains about 300 trees - all are at least 200 years old, and some are over 1,000 years old. These majestic trees stand as tall as 35 meters high, and their branches form a green canopy that is especially striking against a backdrop of winter snow.
At the town of Tourza the valley divides into two branches, each named after a Monastery: Wadi Qozhaya leading to Ehden and wadi Qannoubin leading to the Cedars. A path goes along the bottom of the valley through an area called,"Bain an-Nahrain" (between the Two Rivers) where Wadi Qannoubin meets wadi Qadisha. From here trails lead to the various sites. You can also start from the top of the valley and take one of the numerous paths to the bottom.
This village at the head of the Qadisha valley is noted as the birthplace of Gibran Khalil Gebran, author of The Prophet and many other famous works. One of Gibran's last wishes was to spend his final days there and to be buried in the small monastery of Mar Sarkis at the entrance of the town. The first part of his wish was not to be, but Gebran's tomb lies in the Monastery, which today serves as the Gebran Museum. Here his paintings, drawings and manuscripts are on display.
In winter the museum is open daily from 9 am to 5pm, except Mondays. In summer, it is open every day, including Mondays.
The Arz er-Rabb or the Cedars of the lord are very few and very precious. The grove that you see today is a relic of the great forests that made Lebanon famous in ancient times. Newly laid paths through the grove allow the visitor to view these majestic trees at first hand. The oldest reach a height of 35 meters and a circumference of 14 meters. The Cedars is also an important ski resort.
Chapel of Mart Chmouni
Built under a rocky ledge in the Middle Ages, this chapel has three naves, two of which were man-made while the third was set within a natural rocky crevice. A few years ago its walls were still entirely covered with paintings in the Syro-Byzantine style of the first half of the 13th century. Unfortunately, thanks to a zealous donor, these paintings were recently hidden under a layer of plaster.
How to get there: located at the point where Wadi Houla and Wadi Qannoubin meet, this chapel near Deir es-Salib can be reached by a difficult 30 minute walk from Hadchit or by path from the bottom of the valley.
Chapel of saydet Hawqa
(Our Lady of Hawqa)
This little monastery, consisting of a chapel and a few monks' cells, was constructed within a shallow cave. Chroniclers date it to around the end of the 13th century. They also associate the monastery with an attack by armed Mamlukes against the natural fortress of Aassi Hawqa, located in a cave above the monastery. In this fortress, accessible only by experienced rock climbers, there are some paintings and a long Christian inscription in Arabic dating to 1193. Deserted most of the year, the monastery itself becomes the site of pilgrimage during the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin and a high mass is celebrated at the site on the evening of August 14.
How to get there: by car from Blawza to Hawqa then a 30 minute walk from Hawqa over a steep path. Or, by a path from the bottom of the valley.
Deir Es Salib
(Monastery of the cross)
Built beneath a huge natural ledge, this monastery has a double chapel and a number of caves in the Cliffside which were used as hermits' cells. Now completely deserted and falling into ruin, some of its structures are still visible, including wall foundations, a large arcade and some sections of the mud walls of the cells that were built around it. In the 12th-13th centuries the chapel walls were covered with frescoes in the Byzantine style. Still visible are fragments representing the Apostles, the Church Fathers, and scenes inspired by the New Testament including the Annunciation and the Crucifixion. Inscriptions in Arabic, not to be confused with modern graffiti, preserve the memory of a hermit who lived here. How to get there: a difficult path descends from Hadchit (about 30 minute), or you can take the path from the bottom of the valley.
Deir Mar Antonios Qozhaya
(Monastery of St. Anthony Qozhaya)
This popular hermitage is one of the largest in the valley. Continuously in use since the Early Middle Ages, according to accounts, monastic life there had already been established by the mid-12th century. The structure was most recently renovated in 1926 and the church, partly carved from living rock, was last repaired in 1864. a new museum, completed in 1995, houses a collection sacred and ethnographic objects, as well as an old printing press.
The printing press, purchased in 1871, replaced the original older one imported from Rome by the Maronite monks in the last quarter of the 18th century and installed in the monastery in 1815. Even earlier, the monastery had portable presses imported from Europe, which were used to print the Book of Psalms in 1585 and 1610. Near the entrance of the monastery is the grotto of Saint Anthony, known locally as the "Cave of the Mad". Here one can see the chains which were used to constrain the insane or the possessed who were left at the monastery in the care of the Saint. How to get there: by a car starting at Aarbet Qozhaya, or on foot by a path from the bottom of the valley.