Reli­gious tourism

Reli­gious an­thro­pol­o­gist, re­searcher and founder of NEOS Tourism Con­sul­tancy Nour Farra-had­dad takes us on a trip to two pilgrimage sites, the maqams of Nabi Nouh in the Bekaa Val­ley and Nabi Younes on the coastal plain of Jiyeh, 30km south of Beirut.

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS -

Pilgrimage to the maqams

MAQAM NABI NOUH (PROPHET NOAH), KARAK

The vil­lage of Karak is lo­cated in the Bekaa Val­ley, a few kilo­me­ters north of Zahle. The maqam (shrine) and the mosque of Nabi Nouh are lo­cated side by side in the mid­dle of the vil­lage. The maqam is used by be­liev­ers to make vows for bene­dic­tions. Oth­ers come to the mosque for rit­ual prayers, par­tic­u­larly on Fri­days. Chris­tians and Mus­lims in­habit the vil­lage, and just a few hun­dred me­ters from the maqam stands the church of St. An­thony.

To reach the maqam and the mosque, vis­i­tors have to cross a gar­den and a ceme­tery. At the en­trance of the site is a fountain, con­sid­ered by some wor­ship­pers to be sa­cred.

The maqam was built on the re­mains of a Ro­man tem­ple. The stones used for the foun­da­tion are spec­tac­u­lar, and at the en­trance of the holy site you can see a small al­tar rep­re­sent­ing Jupiter. In­side the mosque, Ro­man let­ters dec­o­rate the top of the mod­ern col­umns, and stones are carved with flow­ers and geo­met­ric pat­terns. Many ori­en­tal­ists and trav­el­ers, like Nabulsi, vis­ited the site and de­scribed it as im­pres­sive be­cause of the large tomb, mea­sur­ing around 25m in length. Lo­cals be­lieve that the Prophet Noah was a large man and was buried bent in two. Oth­ers be­lieve that it is not the Prophet Noah who is buried here but his son Kirik, who drowned in the great flood by ig­nor­ing God’s in­struc­tions and those of Noah. Many say that the vil­lage is named af­ter him and that Noah’s Ark reached the Bekaa Val­ley af­ter the flood.

Wor­ship­pers prac­tice var­i­ous rit­u­als, such as light­ing can­dles, us­ing the sa­cred stone, the mah­daleh, touching the darih (tomb) and walk­ing around the tomb while they pray, to ask for good for­tune from the prophet.

WHAT TO DO IN THE AREA

The town of Four­zol lies just a few kilo­me­ters from the holy site. Wadi al Habis (the Val­ley of the Her­mit) is two-and-a-half kilo­me­ters from the cen­ter of Four­zol. Monks and her­mits once lived in the val­ley caves and there are a num­ber of tombs, shrines and sanc­tu­ar­ies cut out of the rock dat­ing back to Ro­man and Byzan­tine times. It is said that these caves sug­gest an iso­lated but in­tense monas­tic life.

Niha is a stun­ning town just a few kilo­me­ters from Four­zol where one can ex­plore two Ro­man tem­ples, one named af­ter the god Hadara­nis and the other af­ter Atra­gatis, the Syr­iac-phoeni­cian god­dess. Both tem­ples were con­structed around a stream dur­ing the sec­ond and third cen­turies. A small tem­ple dat­ing back to the first cen­tury lies at the en­trance of the site.

Two kilo­me­ters away, a road lead­ing higher into the moun­tains will get you to the Ro­man tem­ples of Hosn Niha, which are iso­lated from the vil­lage in a won­der­ful, breath­tak­ing frame amid hills and fer­tile ter­rain. Other Ro­man sites, such as Qasr Naba and Tam­nine, can be vis­ited in the area as well.

Only five kilo­me­ters away is Zahle, where you can visit the fa­mous sanc­tu­ary of Our Lady of Zahle and the Bekaa Val­ley, and en­joy a de­li­cious lunch by the Ber­daouni River.

MAQAM EL NABI YOUNES (PROPHET JONAH), JIYEH

On the coast between Damour and Saida is the coastal town of Jiyeh, where it is thought the Prophet Jonah (Nabi Younes) was spat out of a whale, a story doc­u­mented in the Old Tes­ta­ment.

In Phoeni­cian times Jiyeh was known as Por­phyreon, a thriv­ing nat­u­ral sea­port. Mod­ern day Jiyeh is dis­tin­guished by seven kilo­me­ters of sandy beaches, a rar­ity along Le­banon’s mainly rocky coast­line. This amaz­ing stretch of sand and surf is host to a num­ber of trendy beach re­sorts.

The maqam is a me­dieval shrine ded­i­cated to Jonah. At the en­trance stands an old tree that was struck by light­ning and only half of the tree sur­vived. In front of the main gate there is a dried-up well, known to have been mirac­u­lous. In­side the shrine there is an old mihrab and a small cham­ber hold­ing one of the sup­posed tombs of Jonah. The main room, serv­ing as a mosque, is di­vided with a cur­tain to sep­a­rate the men from the women. At the end of the main room is an­other room, very small in size, which is cov­ered with ex-vo­tos and houses a darih sur­rounded by a grid. The mosque was con­structed us­ing an­cient Ro­man and Byzan­tine ru­ins taken from a nearby dig. Corinthian cap­i­tals are also part of the build­ing, dec­o­ra­tively carved on the in­side wall. Oum Mham­mad, who takes care of the maintenance of the maqâm, says that vis­i­tors of all faiths visit the shrine for its baraka (bene­dic­tions).

WHAT TO DO IN THE AREA

A short walk from the maqam is the old ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site of the Byzan­tine set­tle­ment of Pro­phyreon, just in front of the sea, with its cathe­dral dat­ing back to the sixth cen­tury.

You can visit the sanc­tu­ary of Our Lady of Khaldeh on your way to Jiyeh and con­tinue there­after to Saida, where you can wan­der around the old town, the fa­mous Sea Cas­tle, Khan El Franj, the soap mu­seum and the stun­ning Debbane Palace.

Pho­tos: Ab­bas Sal­man

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