The Cedars, Lebanon

Simply known as "The Cedars", this resort settlement in Lebanon's highest range is one of the most dramatically beautiful spots in the country. Its centerpiece is an ancient grove of cedars, a tree synonymous for millennia with Lebanon itself. The most exciting way to get to The Cedars is from Deir Al-Ahmar in the Beqaa valley. The road snakes up the bare eastern slopes of Mount Lebanon presenting marvelous views at every turn. As you get higher, at the crest you look down the other side into a gigantic bowl where the ski resort, the cedar grove and the Qadisha gorge lie before you in a wide-angle panorama.

A more direct way to The Cedars is from Chekka (south of Tripoli) to Bsharre. Two roads lead from Bsharre village to The Cedars, about 7 km (4.3 miles) up the mountain. The older road, known for its hairpin curves, leads past the entrance path of the Qadisha grotto. The new road, with more gentle engineering, is kept clear in winter for pain free ascent. Whichever way you take, the vistas are beautiful, especially when fog rises from the valley.

You first arrive at a large assortment of hotels, chalets, night clubs and restaurants, which thought not a village, does form a local community of residents, visitors and local proprietors. About a kilometer further on is the famous Cedar grove where the road is lined with the inevitable souvenir stands and small restaurants. The same road continues to the ski area at 2066 meters and goes over the mountain and down into the Beqaa valley. The Cedars is a resort for all seasons. In summer the high elevation makes it a wonderful escape from the humid coast while in winter skiing is the favorite activity.

The Cedars in History

The Cedar is a historical entity mentioned often in the Bible and other ancient texts and it played an important part in the culture, trade and religious observances of the ancient Middle East. Prized for its fragrance and durability, the length of its great logs made cedar wood especially desirable for shipbuilding and was used for the roofs of the temples, to construct tombs and other major buildings.

Over the centuries, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians made expedition to Mount Lebanon for timber or extracted tributes of wood from the coastal cities of Canaan-Phoenicia. 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". Egyptians also used cedar resin for mummification, and pitch was extracted from these trees for waterproofing and caulking.

In the 2nd century AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian attempted to protect the forest with boundary markers, most carved into living rock, others in the form of separate engraved stones. Today over 200 such markers have been recorded, allowing scholars to make an approximate reconstruction of the ancient forest boundaries. Two of these markers, carved in abbreviated Latin, can be seen at the American University of Beirut Museum. In the centuries after Hadrian, Lebanon's trees were used extensively as fuel, especially for lime burning kilns. In 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 railroad between Tripoli and Haifa.

Skiing in The Cedars

The scenery and the quality of the snow makes 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 building, which now belongs 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.