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


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.


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.


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).


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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