Past Master

By­b­los is one of the old­est con­tin­u­ously in­hab­ited cities in the world and Al­ice Eddé is the un­likely Amer­i­can mak­ing sure no one for­gets about its ex­tra­or­di­nary past.

Bespoke - - ESCAPE -

There are few places in the world left to dis­cover – no new lands or un­mapped con­ti­nents to stir the imag­i­na­tion, no months’ long ex­pe­di­tions in search of new wa­ter­ways or great new shores to set­tle on. As a re­sult, it’s more of a rediscover world we live in, one where we re­visit the ves­tiges of the past and take them for­ward, mak­ing them fresh and rel­e­vant again for mod­ern con­sump­tion. One thing how­ever hasn’t changed: it still takes a cer­tain type of pioneer to raise a his­tor­i­cal place from the dust and lift it back to – if not be­yond – its for­mer glory. As a po­ten­tial project, the city of By­b­los, a pretty fish­ing town on the Mediter­ranean coast about 40 kilo­me­tres north of Beirut, has a lot go­ing for it. It is re­put­edly the old­est con­tin­u­ously in­hab­ited port city in the world, hav­ing been lived in since Ne­olithic times (that’s about 8,000 years ago) when fish­er­men came ashore and set­tled on a pris­tine cliff of sand­stone. They built them­selves tiny huts with limestone floors, carv­ing tools and weapons from lo­cal stones and lived off the boun­ti­ful sea. Since then, it has been al­tered and built ac­cord­ing to the re­quire­ments of its sub­se­quent in­hab­i­tants. You’ll find remnants of struc­tures from the Bronze Age, Per­sian for­ti­fi­ca­tions, the Ro­man road, Byzantine churches, the Cru­sade citadel and the Medieval and Ot­toman town. In­deed, a visit to By­b­los is a one of a kind, very ex­pe­ri­en­tial win­dow onto his­tory. One jour­nal­ist likens it to “step­ping onto the set of a Hol­ly­wood his­tor­i­cal epic”. Oddly (or maybe not that oddly), it took an Amer­i­can woman and her Le­banese hus­band, a lawyer-turned politi­cian-turned prop­erty ty­coon (that last ti­tle is from a CNN re­port in 2014) to re­turn some of By­b­los’s for­mer magic to the area. “I’m from a young coun­try, so I ap­pre­ci­ate his­tory and tra­di­tion. Peo­ple here don’t know that if you don’t use it, you lose it,” re­flects Al­ice Eddé, who calls the charm­ing out­door café where we meet “home”. Home, be­cause since mov­ing back to By­b­los in 1999, Al­ice and Roger Eddé have taken it upon them­selves to help pre­serve and cap­i­talise on the charms of the area by in­vest­ing in it. The old souks area, which they’ve largely ac­quired and dubbed Ed­dé­yard, is brim­ming with life on one hot Thurs­day evening. There is a live jazz show and the cafes and restau­rants are full to the brim. Al­ice has per­son­ally taken over the lo­cal spice shop, bookshop, and runs her name­sake fash­ion, gar­den and home shop. It’s where you’ll find a ce­ramic ring in which you can grow grass, like the one we no­ticed on Al­ice’s own hand the fist time we met her. “Years ago, I was at one of the fash­ion shows in Paris with de­signer Rabih Kay­rouz and there was a Cana­dian buyer who asked ‘what does that lady do?’ and he looked at me, con­fused. He was the one who sug­gested I’d bet­ter do some­thing that looks like me,” she ex­plains, of her shop’s ec­cen­tric as­sort­ment of lo­cal spe­cialty items. She also re­cently launched a farmer’s mar­ket in By­b­los, where lo­cal pro­duce is sold and ven­dors from the old souk are en­cour­aged to take turns man­ning a booth. Like­wise, she or­gan­ises work­shops, such as a re­cent hat-mak­ing tu­to­rial. There are some less com­mer­cial ef­forts, too. On a re­cent press tour, a group of jour­nal­ists that in­cluded us, was taken to the tiny 13th cen­tury Saint Theodore chapel in the nearby vil­lage of Be­hdi­dat. Eddé pro­vided lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port tothe team of in­ter­na­tional ex­perts who com­pleted the metic­u­lous work of restor­ing its frescoes. She then led us to the lush na­ture re­serve in Ben­tael (though heavy thun­der­storms put paid that plan). “We want to cre­ate a sense of com­mu­nity, or else things can just dis­solve,” she says. It’s a wise ob­ser­va­tion from a woman whose own spec­tac­u­lar gar­den serves as proof she can pretty much grow any­thing.

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