April 13, 2010

On Adventure & More Roman Stuff

If you like adventure, I have just the thing to you. Buy one of those car navigators from NavLeb, type in ‘Sfire' and see what happens. I tell you, I’ve been all over the country. What have I seen? Better ask; what haven’t I seen!

I have been dragged through the most shady neighborhoods of Tripoli, got stuck for an hour in some sort of Sunday market for second-hand goods, drove over dirt tracks most of the way, got navigated into dead-end streets more than once, scaled mountain roads, drove close to the edge most of the time, ended up in stone mason yards and my GPS indicated I was in the green (read ‘unchartered’) most of the way.
Impression of Tripoli
Where's the road?
Ah, now we have two roads? What's this, a highway?
And we've got gravel!
Well, here we've got some type of pavement, but it's a dead end.
Uh oh! Better slow down, we've got possible road kill; Crossing chickens. (If I go any faster than 20 k/ph every nut and bolt in my card will come undone)
What do you mean there is no road?! I'm driving on it! It's got tarmac and all. Who developped this stupid program?

But we did get to Sfire, albeit with some diversions. And in Sfire, according to my book on Lebanon, there was a Roman temple.

There was (34°24'4.82"N & 36° 3'33.75"E). In the midst of a violent sand storm, we reached it. We almost got blown of the hill top. It is a bit of the beaten track and you will find almost no visitors there. As a result, you will also find almost no information on the structure. These 6 information panels  were no longer present, and my guidebook had very little to say on it.
What survives of this temple is the ‘cella’, a simple, largely unadorned structure built of hefty limestone blocks, with no evidence of a surrounding colonnade. (…) Much of the courtyard in which the cella stands is still paved, and the whole site is strewn with ruble and architectural fragments. In front of the cella are the remains of a subsidiary building, and to the right another one with four columns still standing. (Source)

The temple was built in the time of the emperor Severius early in the third century; this explains the name, a corruption of Severius through Saferius and now Sfireh. The emperor remained four years in the region and here on a hilltop planted with clusters of oak trees this temple had been put up no doubt to commemorate his name. (Source)

This was the only sign to the temple.

Apparently Severius (October 1, 208 – March 18, 235 AD),  was a locally-born Roman emperor. He was born in Aarqa (Arca Caesarea or Caesarea ad Libanum in Syria, on the western slope of the Lebanon range, a short distance NE of the modern city of Tripoli), and as such must have known the region well.
I’m surprised he’s not more well-known in Lebanon. After all, a Lebanese emperor, that’s just what we like (Was that what caused the downfall of the Roman empire? Oh no, that was much later).
He ended up being assassinated, a tradition we have tried to keep up ever since.

(Here’s a short film of the monument.

Sfire is in the county of Dinneyeh. The Dinneyeh area is stunningly beautiful. Very green, very lush, and very un-urbanized the way Beirut is. This is how you imagine Lebanon would have been 60 years ago.

We passed by fields of wheat, olive groves, forest, and deep dark gorges (34°23'21.00"N & 36° 3'9.69"E) that I plan to hike one day.
Beautiful fields of waving wheat

Dinniyeh rings a medieval bell in my ears; it’s been ages since I have visited the place. I did a story at the end of 1999 about Dinniyeh, because some of the inhabitants in the region predicted doom was coming their way on December the 31st, 1999. A bit like those medieval millennium doom-thinkers that thought the world was coming to an end in 1,000. Well, the coming of 2000 was no different; they barricaded themselves in their houses and stocked up on sugar and rice, cooking oil and firewood for years to come, and waited for the end of the world to come. At least, that was the story.

The real story was about a veteran of the Afghan war & buddy of Osama Bin Laden, Bassam Kanj, who had come home from battling the infidels in Kabul, and decided Dinneyeh was as good a place as any to start an islamic state. That of course did not go down well with the powers in Beirut, so Kanj barricaded himself (with his followers, the rice and the cooking oil). The story did not end well for him; he was killed. Some of his followers ended up in jail. The rest ran off the Narh el Bared and Ain el Heloueh, two Palestinian camps. Nahr el Bared has since been obliterated; The Dinneyeh fighters have either been killed or ran off. Ain el Heloueh still has a contingent of them that joined Usbat al-Ansar, an el-Qaida offspring. 

An old water mill?

And Dinneyeh, well, it is still known to be a hotbed for islamic fundamentalists, (or militant islamists, as they call them these days). Poverty is quite abject in the region, but they’re taking a break these days.

I know; I zig-zagged the entire region for a whole day, drove into every nook and cranny, but saw very little bearded men on the road.

There’s still loads of temples left in Lebanon to visit (other than the famous Baalbeck one) so stay tuned for more.


Simon said...

the funny thing about NavLeb is that they licensed their maps from the lebanese army! When was the last time the lebanese army did a mapping survey! do they even use GPS?

Google maps, with their satellite
imagery have done a much better job.

Everytime i visit lebanon, i realise how very little advancements they have done in things that really matters; Still no electricity, no postal services (i've sent so many post cards, nothing got there), no decent internet connection (they just roled out ADSL, not even ADSL2+), no 3G (Still using WAP and GSM), no support from government bodies.

I don't know how you can live their after being born and raised overseas.

Anonymous said...

Simon it is done for love
what government,a bunch of thieves.
you have good points the situation in Lebanon should be a lot better
I am for Sietske as prime minister and president of Lebanon