The hike in the Qadisha Valley was definitely the highlight of the entire trip for me. Hiking is one of my favorite things to do and I love exploring places: I don’t care about maps, hotels, or tours but if there is a path of any sort, preferably in the woods, that’s where I’m going! My biggest fear is that one day I’ll be mistaken for a moose during hunting season (what an unfortunate end that would be). What I find difficult in places like Beirut, is that it’s almost impossible to just go out for a walk and clear one’s head. So, I was really looking forward to this little adventure and just being able to walk, climb and enjoy nature and Lebanon is at its best. Why am I always in pictures with bags, bags and more bags? (Note to self: put the bags down for photos.)
Kadisha, or Qadisha, is Arameic and means Holy, and is one of the most important places in the history of Christianity — though this is the part often skipped in schools. What I was taught in school was very focused on the life of Jesus, and later the spread of Christianity into Europe. However, in between there, the early church had to solidify its existence and at the very center of this was the Qadisha Valley.
The early Christian communities, persecuted and in search for refuge, found the valley safely hidden between the mountains. Still today, it’s easy to see why the valley was chosen: It is very difficult to access and even when you do get there, the mountains are filled with caves, located so high up that the hiding hermits would always have had the benefit of seeing the aggressors first. The land is fertile and there are multiple sources for fresh water. The valley became the founding place for early Christian monastic life, as well a place for hermits to live and contemplate in solitude. Later on, the first printing press in the Middle East (and the first printing press to ever print in Arabic) were both located here. Nowadays you can drive down by car (if the brakes are fully functional and you’re not afraid of heights :-)) until a certain point, after which you have to walk, or perhaps even go by donkey.
Over the years the valley attracted also Sufi mystics, who like the Christian hermits found the caves and lush pine forests to be the perfect place for meditation and contemplation. Walking through the valley felt almost like going back in time for thousands of years. The paths, the climb up to the monasteries, the river — everything is peaceful and unchanged.
We began our hike in the early morning, at around 6AM, before the sun got too hot. The hike down to the valley is easier than walking back up, and I’d say it’s okay for anyone in relatively good shape (even the kids did it like real troopers!).
Our path led us to the oldest monastery in the valley, Our Lady of Qannoubine, which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, and because of that I’ll separate it to another post (this one is getting lengthy enough!).
This me happily grinning while climbing up towards the monastery. It ended up being amazingly beautiful, and much more than just a resting break for our tired feet!
Here’s a nice short 2011 clip from CNN about the Valley and religion in Lebanon in general.