|Rayak Station today, and in the past|
I walked around Rayak this weekend. And when you walk through Rayak, a small town in the northern part of the Beqaa Valley, it’s as if you walk in a time capsule. Just like Cuba is forever caught in the fifties, Rayak is caught in the French colonial time, with many of the old houses and monumental buildings originating from the thirties, when money was in abundance.
Rayak was once a little village with a few houses around a well: an agricultural town. That was until the French decided, in 1895, that when connecting the port of Beirut with Damascus, it should have a station in Rayak, where the line would split with a line going north (Baalbeck and then Syria), and a line east, to Damascus.
Once the town had a railway station, it needed houses for railway officials. Then they built a factory where trains were constructed, so they needed houses for the factory engineers. In 1914, the Germans (The Ottomans were allied with the Germans during WWI) built an airbase. When the French took over, they established had a large army base. They built a huge hospital (with a jail), an officer’s club and barracks for their men. American and Australian troops stayed there as well. The town got restaurants, cinemas and even a casino, and they even had brothels, according to this source.
The place must have been fun.
The place must have been fun.
The old French hospital (no longer a hospital) It even had a pool with a dive board (no longer operating)
The jail built by the French army. It was later used by the Syrians when they occupied the town.
Nothing is left, of course. The war lords of the civil war plundered just about everything and what could not be stolen was destroyed.
It is almost impossible to imagine, but Lebanon was once a real country. Real, in the sense that things functioned, such as electricity, and water. There were proper roads. They built in stone, not cement, and the houses were well designed. When you walk through Rayak, you can actually feel the glory days. The old houses, once built by the railway company, are still inhabited, subdivided to host more families. The train yard is still there, as is the station and the factory. And in the town, many of the more traditional one story houses all have the year 1933 or 32 above the door (in Arabic). There is order in it all.
Then, in 1961, the Lebanese government took over the railway, and that was the beginning of its demise.
|Not much left of it|
|In the tunnel that cuts through the mountain in Dahr el Baidar.|
I’m not complaining; I came for the chaos and I stayed for the chaos. But every now and then it is nice to see things as if in a time machine.
So if you have a day off, drive to Rayak (take the main road to Damascus. Once you’ve cleared Shtoura, and passed Tanayel, there’s a sign somewhere to the left.); it’s a visit well worth it.
And as you can see from the links, I am obviously not the first one to go there.