With a 50-year his­tor y, Jounieh’s tele­ferique con­tin­ues its jour­ney up and down the Harissa heights – re­main­ing an im­por­tant Le­banese land­mark. LT meets Joe Bou­los, whose fam­ily was re­spon­si­ble for its her­itage

Lebanon Traveler - - FRONT PAGE -

It’s be­come a land­mark for many peo­ple in the Mid­dle East

“The joke go­ing around at the time was that Bou­los is crazy. There’s a guy who wants to cre­ate an aer ial train over the moun­tain,” laughs Joe Bou­los as he re­counts the anec­dote when his late fa­ther, Fouad Bou­los pro­posed the idea of a tele­fer ique to Fouad Che­hab, the Le­banese Pres­i­dent of the time. “The Pres­i­dent could not un­der­stand what a tele­fer ique was, and in fact there was no-one in the Mid­dle East who could. The clos­est descr ip­tion my fa­ther could give was of a train in the air.” Sit­ting in his of­fice, at the base of the tele­fer ique in Jounieh, which this year cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sar y, Joe Bou­los was eight years old when he took one of its first r ides. He now stands as chair­man of the board of di­rec­tors of the tele­fer ique com­pany, pre­sid­ing over what’s be­come one of the countr y’s most cher ished icons. His of­fice walls are lined with framed black and white pho­to­graphs; some of which show the tele­fer ique’s con­struc­tion back in 1964 in an al­to­gether greener Jounieh. Founded by the Bou­los fam­ily, along with a small group of in­vestors, of which Joe’s fa­ther, Fouad was chair­man; the am­bi­tious tele­fer ique pro­ject was the re­sult of a dream to make the Le­banese pilgr im­age site more ac­ces­si­ble. The white statue of Vir­gin Mary, known as Our Lady of Le­banon, which stands on the peak of Harissa, re­mains one of Le­banon’s most vis­ited tour ist sites. “My fa­ther was inspired by post­cards he had seen from Switzer­land and the Alps,” Joe says. “They struck a deal with the Ger­man com­pany, PHB, the in­ven­tors of the ca­ble car con­cept world­wide. It took a cou­ple of years to con­struct and opened to the public in 1965. It’s since be­come a land­mark for many peo­ple in the Mid­dle East.” The stor y of Fouad him­self is one con­nected to the ver y idea of Le­banese iden­tity. Com­ing from what Joe says were “ex­tremely mod­est or igins,” he dropped out of school and worked to the top by him­self. “He’s a to­tally self-made man, with lim­ited ed­u­ca­tion. He learned from life ex­per ience and worked his way up the lad­der to be­come one of the lead­ing fig­ures of Le­banese entrepreneurship,” re­counts Joe. For many, there’s nos­tal­gia at­tached to the tele­fer ique; its dis­tinct 60s-style br ightly col­ored pods as­so­ci­ated with the golden age of Le­banon. “It re­flects the ge­nius of some en­trepreneurs who go ahead and do things that are be­yond the reg­u­lar scale. To have a small countr y

like Le­banon lead­ing the whole re­gion with a pro­ject like this is a feat,” says Joe. The only ca­ble car in the Mid­dle East at the time, the tele­fer ique, has at­tracted nu­mer­ous T V and film crews over the years. Trav­el­ing high above lus­cious green forests, with a view over the bay of Jounieh and turquoise blue seas, it be­came the set­ting of many iconic ro­mance pro­duc­tions from Egypt and Le­banon fea­tur ing leg­en­dar y Arab film st ars. It’s an im­por t ant par t of the re­gion’s her it age. “Many peo­ple still go up the tele­fer ique with nos­tal­gia,” Joe says. “It has a lot of movies as­so­ci­ated with it. When things are unique and beau­ti­ful they are the per fect set­ting for love stor ies.” The tele­fer ique con­tin­ues to at­tract close to 400,000 visi­tors per year and though the des­ti­na­tion is an im­por t ant Chr is­tian pilgr im­age site, Joe notes that around two thirds of its tour ists are non-chr is­tian; “It ’s a place for ever ybody,” he says. In its 50-year his­tor y, the tele­fer ique has rarely come to a stop. It con­tin­ued to run through­out Le­banon’s long civil war, only stop­ping br ief ly dur ing its worst mo­ments. “It has a life­time of me­mor ies – the tele­fer ique keeps go­ing up and down, day in, day out, war or no war,” Joe says. “It’s al­ways been there, it ’s a wit­ness to Le­banon’s his­tor y over the past f ive decades. It wit­nessed the beau­ti­ful golden age of Le­banon, it wit­nessed the de­struc­tion of Beirut and its re­con­struc­tion and it is now wit­ness­ing the re­silience of Le­banon.” Though the tele­ferique has suf fered in re­cent years with a de­cline in the num­ber of visi­tors to the countr y, it has shown its own re­silience. They have man­aged to sta­bi­lize and even in­crease the num­ber of tourists over the last few years, which Joe puts down to small im­prove­ments they’ve made – cre­at­ing a food court with a view over the bay that of fers Le­banese cui­sine and fast food snacks and a land­scaped prom­e­nade that of fers a scenic walk through the woods. Though the tele­ferique has reached 50 years of ex­is­tence, there are no big plans for cel­e­bra­tion. “We don’t want to make a big splash. We be­lieve that we should re­main a sta­ble land­mark with a rel­a­tively mod­est out­look,” Joe says. “It worked for us for 50 years, and its un­likely that it is go­ing to change any­time soon.”

Photo: 4bar­chi­tects - Said Bi­tar

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