March 12, 2009

Things You Discover When You’re Not Looking For Them

What I like about this country is that is has the same diversity as most countries, but it’s all packed in a relatively small place. And you discover lots of things, especially when you’re not looking for them.
SIL and I went for a picnic last weekend. We found a perfectly quiet spot in between the Asperula odorata and the Lupinus digitatus, surrounded by olive groves, near the northern hamlet of Hamat, which is build upon a limestone cliff overlooking Chekka and the Mediterranean Sea. The place was surrounded by a stone wall, sheltered from the wind. Perfect for a picnic (34° 17’13.48”N & 35° 40’53.77”E). And so we unloaded the tribe, unpacked our picnic baskets and sat down. We did wonder why there was a picture of Jesus stuck against a tree. That mystery was pretty soon solved when three ladies came with candles to pray. Turns out we had set up shop in the middle of an ancient church, which was a shrine for the local villagers. Not much was left of it, but obviously it was still quite vibrant in the minds of the people to come and pray there. It seems the village is a popular Christian pilgrimage site where believers visit the shrine and monastery of Our Lady of Nourieh (Nourieh = Light). The place is teeming with ancient shrines and churches, and ruins, many of them apparently in spots where there used to be pagan temples before. And we sat in the middle of one.
They did not seem overly disturbed by the fact that we were conducting a full scale picnic inside the ancient church, but we figured it wasn’t very nice, and so we moved, and stumbled upon an abandoned runway. Hamat Military Airport, it turns out, although that’s a name a bit too grand for the place. I didn’t even know they had an airport up north. HMA apparently was built by the Lebanese Forces in the 70’s (cannot verify that), and subsequently occupied by Syrian troops until 2005. Since then it is sometimes used as a racing track for the local youth. It’s not more than one sorry runway, but perfect to teach a 15-year old how to drive. We then ended up in an oak forest (although these are not your regular oak trees, but rather a stubby version), where we were soon surrounded by porkers. You rarely see pigs in Lebanon, being a dominantly muslim country, and you most definitely do not see them walking around freely, but that’s what they did. I doubt these are free range pigs. Pork meat is not very popular here, even among christians. They once had an outbreak of trichinosis in South Lebanon, after eating raw pork. That’s not overly smart, I must say. Definitely not here, where at times there is little quality control.
We finally ended in Saydet el Nourieh (our Lady of the Light), a convent right on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the sea. Check out the view here (great gimmick). The monastery (Deir el Nourieh) around the church dates from the 17th century. The place is a Marian shrine, something I never heard of, but then I can hardly be considered an expert on the topic. So we spend an entire day on a limestone cliff, which, by the way, is on the Ramsar list (Conservation of wetlands), discovering all kinds of things we never looked for. There are a million and one things to see on this cliff. Check out this site.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

u're still as incredible as u used to be...
bless u.
now u have guides for lebanon, the classical guides, putting this great blog aside...
but about these special places u're the one and only able to find out!, there's a book, wrote by amine el-rihani, in the begining of last century : "qalb loubnân", the heart of lebanon... a trip in these regions of the mountan and the north.
no idea if u can find the book here in english, maybe in the states, where he used to live in the days of gibran, u know, the false local nietzsche...

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Hamat or Halat?

Anonymous said...

Hamat. Halat is more to the south, between Beirut and Hamat

Kheireddine said...

Here is the location:

http://www.wikimapia.org/#lat=34.2827158&lon=35.6811047&z=15&l=0&m=a&v=2

Anonymous said...

isn't it slightly ironic that you are having a picnic on church grounds, visiting a monastery and lighting church candles in as you mentioned- "Lebanon, being a dominantly muslim country"?

Anonymous said...

let's continue on this line?...
; )

...and confusing halat and hamat, knowing that hamat is a Bible leitmotiv, used in the expression "leboa-hamat", the "door of hamat", for the northern limit of the promised land?

next.

Anonymous said...

it is not at all ironic to find many christian sites in lebanon. Christ preached in this area, christianity predates islam and the north of lebanon is highly populated by christians. At one time christians were a slight majority in this country. I know because my father immigrated to US from Hamat.....