April 16, 2008

Chouit – Araya Station

I’m not a train buff. But last Sunday I stumbled upon this absolutely gorgeous ruin, in the mountains some 15 kilometers above Beirut, and I did some research.It looks like a typical French railroad station house, and that is because it is (a French railroad station house). You see them everywhere in France (the older type of railway architecture); a reminder of who built the railway system in Lebanon.
I knew there was a train running from Beirut to Damascus. But I never knew that Chouit – Araya had a railway station, but here it is. There is no train track left. But the station house is so typical, you cannot miss it. The water tower next to it is still intact; they had steam trains in those days, so they’d need to refill water.

I absolutely want this house! I can just see hubbie’s face. He loves projects like this (not). But I’ve got my eyes set on this authentic French railway station house, dating from colonial times.

Railway in Lebanon
There used to be several tracks in Lebanon, connecting Beirut to Damascus, and Jerusalem, and through these places even to Istanbul, Baghdad (Iraq) and Hijaz, in Saudi Arabia! (Check out this New York Times article from 1899) . That was of course before 1948, and the foundation of the State of Israel. Those were the days, my in-laws tell me. Things have changed quite a bit since then, including that railway.

Along some parts of the coast you can still see bits of track. Right before Sidon (Saida), for instance, you have some rails next to the sea, or up near Chekka (up north), bits of railroad run right through beach resorts. There is a railroad tunnel to the Beqaa, but I have no idea in what state that one is. Map source

The first railway in Lebanon was also the first in the Arab world. It was opened on August 3, 1895, when a steam locomotive took the first passengers from Beirut to Damascus. (…) The 147km trip from Beirut to Damascus used to take nine hours, passing through Baabda, Aley, Bhamdoun, Sofar and Dahr al-Baidar before descending into the Bekaa towards the Syrian border.’ From fellow Dutch colleague Peter Speetjens.

The train started in Beirut (Station), passed (among others) through Jamhour (Distance from Beirut) 11.9 km , Araya 16.1 km, Aley 20.4 km, Bhamdoun 26.4, Ain Sofar 30.5 km, and ended some 144 kilometers later in Damascus Baramke, Syria (the place where you are dropped off these days when you go by yellow cab to Damascus)

And as you can see, Araya was an actual station.
The line to Jerusalem was cut in 1948, the line with Damascus was destroyed in the first two years of the civil war (1975-1977). And that was the end of the Lebanese railways.

I know the Damascus – Istanbul line is still up and running and you can even get to Teheran, Iran. Someone told me it only costs $60 to get from Damascus to Teheran by train, but it does take you three days. I’d love to do that one day. Anyone up for that?

In the meantime, I absolutely want this house!
We actually already moved in. In our minds. Now how do we break this one to hubbie?


Anonymous said...

Looooovly!!! In one word, a faboulous place to be.

Just let Hubbie read your blog and let him think in silence. In the meantime: keep dreaming and smiling. He'll melt!


Riemer Brouwer said...

Great find! There are still some railway stations in the Bekaa with even some of the tracks still there, but I never knew about this one. You should do a series, could easily be turned into a coffee table book!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely great finding! I have been reading your blog for a while and truly enjoy getting back to it every once in a while; the fun part is that I was directed to your blog by my son who is China while I was in Holland :)

Eliane Metni

kheireddine said...

Check the old Lebanon pictures I posted on skyscrapercity.com, there some about the Lebanese railroad



Anonymous said...

See Please Here

Anonymous said...

No Zololkis, go take a hike.

Francine said...

Living in Araya... Sounds good! And enough (clean) water to get you through summer! Just 15 km above Beirut, a dream...

BTW: I found your ex-tortoise a perfect example of lebanese spirit.

Anonymous said...

every time I am in Lebanon I wish it had a good rail network.
If mr Harri had done that it would have ben money very well spent.

Anonymous said...

love the house,would be a great summer hose or B and B

Ms. Tee said...

Nice photos. It is, indeed, a gorgeous place. But I don't see how you could have "stumbled" upon it!

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patrick said...


Die huisjes lijken spreken op de "route huizen" die we hier in België hebben. Ik stam af van een spoorwegfamilie en ben er zelf ook ingerold. Mijn hele voorhuwelijks leven heb ik in zo'n fantastisch spoorhuis gewoond (ja, naast een watertoren) Alleen waren die wat groter dan de Libanese variant.
Zo'n huisjes waren vroeger noodzakelijk, niet enkel voor de stationschef maar ook voor het onderhoudspersoneel dat dan onmiddelijk ter plaatse kon ingrijpen in geval van enige onregelmatigheid (ongeval, wisselstoring).

Zoals ik reeds schreef in een vorige reactie ben ik getrouwd met een Libanese schone (naturel !!!) dus kom ik wel eens langs in Libanon.

Ik begrijp volkomen je passie voor dat huisje. In Beiroet zelf staan er trouwens nog zeer mooie authentieke maar verwaarloosde huisjes doch de gemiddelde Libanees "ziet" die schoonheid niet eens. Het is dan ook jammer dat de oude huisjes gesloopt worden en plaats moeten maken voor, veelal, oerlelijke flats. Maar ja, in Libanon gaat profijt boven alles (kan ik ze ongelijk geven?)