Lebanon Traveler

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.


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 ??
Photos: Abbas Salman
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