I have been repeating from my first post that Lebanon is an insanely beautiful country! Yes it has a lot of garbage everywhere, even in the mountains, and it spoils the whole impression. But nevertheless, the nature of Lebanon is just magical, mountainous countryside and sea views can be seen and photographed endlessly. Every Sunday my husband and I choose a new direction, get into the car and move!
I want to confess that I still haven’t been to the most popular cities in Lebanon, such as Tripoli, Tyre and Baalbek. These destinations are too far away from us, especially given the constant traffic jams on the highway. But the problem is not even in the length of the road but the weather. It always gets hot and very humid in summer, that I want to stay in the shade or inside a pool, rather than drive inside the car for two or three hours in one direction and then “enjoy’ the sights of Lebanese regions walking under the flaming sun. So we postponed our adventures until fall comes, which I can’t wait to be honest!
But yesterday, in spite of the thirty-degree heat, we went to the north of Lebanon, in a place called Ehden. And I want to tell you that we haven’t regretted our journey. If you love mountains, picturesque panoramic views, and if you enjoy visiting ancient monasteries, then you definitely should include Ehden into your trip-list.
Ehden is located at an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level, 110 km from Beirut, at the foot of Mar Sarkis mountain. The air in this town is extremely fresh, clean and most importantly dry, which makes any hot day spent here quite comfortable. The city was inhabited thousands of years ago; many of the houses were built from the stones of destroyed pagan statues and temples. Small streets and tiny shops with multipurpose goods are similar to many other provinces of Lebanon. Ehden is famous for its rich variety of meat, including the traditional Lebanese meat balls “kebbeh” so that butchers can be found on every corner, especially in the central part of the city. We did not come here for the meat (though my husband didn’t mind it at all), but to visit local churches, some of which are more than 1000 years old. Even in pre-Christian times there were temples in Ehden, which worshiped pagan deities. With the advent of Christianity, the region was considered as its cradle.
Mar Mema (Saint Mema) is the oldest Maronite church throughout Lebanon; it was built in 749 AD on the site of a pagan temple. Mar Mema, similar to other local churches and monasteries was partly built by the stones of old temples that were ruined by time. Unfortunately we didn’t have the chance to visit the church, so we could only mesmerize it from the outer road.
Sayidat Al-Hosn (Our Lady of the Fort) is the modern church on top of the hill with the breathtaking view. This beautiful white church with the statue on Virgin Mary on the peak was built over the remains of a Crusader castle. The place is very spacious and it has a 360 degree view on the nearby mountains, the green valley and the sea. So far it is the only spot I have been to in Lebanon, which could offer such a wide panorama! A tiny old chapel is hidden right behind the main building of the church and I highly recommend you to visit it. I really prefer such places to big modern ones, as they make me feel myself back in time, when people were simpler and closer to God.
Saint Sarkis Maronite Monastery is called the Watchful Eye of Qadisha for its panoramic view on Qadisha valley. Surrounded by old green trees, it consists of two beautiful churches next to each other. The first church of Saints Sarkis and Bakhos was built in the middle of VIII century A.D. on the ruins of a Canaanite temple dedicated to a divinity of agriculture; another church dedicated to Our Lady was constructed in 1198 A.D. A truly peaceful and calm place, where the only sound you can hear is the sound of leaves rustle in the wind.
A lot of apple trees are planted in and around Ehden. I have never seen this sort: vinous red, sometimes turning into purple, these apples looked like plumps at first sight. I have a major obsession with fruits right at the trees, therefore I always get super excited when I see lemons, apples, pomegranates growing on the streets of Lebanon.
On the way back we passed by old stony monastery remains, which is called Saint Jacoub monastery. The monastery was locked, so we only had the chance to check it from the outside.
They say that the name Ehden means in Aramic “the mountain base”. Others sure that Ehden was the first place where Adam and Eve lived after the expulsion from paradise, therefore Ehden means Eden (heaven, paradise). After my visit I am fully agree with the second version. This place is a Eden on Earth, the combination of inexpressible beauty, clear air and total peace.
Ehden on Earth!
P.S.: this region still has a lot of other holy places to visit, therefore we are planning to come back.