The Historic Significance of the Cedars of Lebanon
The Cedars of Lebanon have an almost magical place in history, not just in the
history of Lebanon, but of a number of neighboring countries and conquering
The cedar forests of Lebanon enjoy the unique distinction as the oldest
documented forests in history. The cedars were important enough in the history
of man to be traceable to the very earliest written records, that of the
Sumerians in the third millennium BC. In the ancient Sumerian story, "The Epic
of Gilgamesh", one of the oldest pieces of literature in the world, the Cedars
feature prominently. Gilgamesh has since been recognized as King Gilgamesh of
history and in probability visited Mount Lebanon.
It was the Phoenicians along the coast of present-day Lebanon and from such
ancient cities as Byblos, Tyre and Sidon who became the principal dealers in the
timber of the cedar. Indeed, the cedars made a special contribution to the
development of the Phoenician civilization by providing the timbers with which
they developed their famous sea-going merchant boats thus becoming one of the
first, if not the first major sea-going trading nation in the world.
The Phoenicians traded the cedar to Egypt, until Egypt in turn conquered the
land of the cedars and gained direct access to the forests, which were highly
prized in the building of temples and boats. Later the Babylonians took a
similar interest in the cedars and obtained them for use in building the fabled
city of Babylon.
People around the world know of the cedars of Lebanon because of the numerous
references in the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament. The Bible records in some
detail how King Solomon, King of Israel, requested of King Hiram of Tyre to
supply cedar and to build a temple and a palace in Jerusalem.
In the 6th Century BC, Persian control of the Phoenician ports provided the
Persians with the means of assembling a navy for use against their enemies the
Greeks who were already embarrassing the Persians with their mobility in the
Mediterranean as they leased and copied the Phoenician triremes.
The expansion of the Roman Empire into Syria and Lebanon had its detrimental
effect on the cedars until the Emperor Hadrian installed the markers around the
boundary of the remaining forests and declared them as Imperial Domain.
Specimens of these markers have been preserved and held in museum collections.
The Ottoman Turks deforested all of the cedar growing areas within easy
transport distance of their Hijaz railway to provide fuel for their wood-burning
engines. Only the highest and most remote groves escaped damage.
In the modern day Lebanon the legendary cedar is still revered and remains
prominent in the minds of all Lebanese. The cedar features on the national flag,
the national airline, Government logos, the Lebanese currency and innumerable
commercial logos. It is the feature of books, poetry, post cards, posters and
art. The Cedars of Lebanon are truly an important part of the cultural heritage
of the people of Lebanon.
Historic Cultural Sites
The setting of the Shouf is a nexus of many cultures, religions, and historical
events, all of which have left an imprint which makes the area's cultural
heritage as rich as its ecosystems. The following are some major landmarks:
- Niha Fortress
The cave castle of Tyron Niha relates to one of the closing episodes of Prince
Fakhreddin II's epic history and are the only remaining vestiges of a once
powerful fortress which was successively used by the Arabs, Crusaders, and a
number of princes of Mount Lebanon.
- El Nabi Ayoub
A feretory was built on the hill above the village of Niha to honor Job's memory
and hold his relics. Ayoub is the Arabic name of the prophet Job.
- Qab Elias Castle
This once powerful Druze fortress served as a guardian outpost controlling the
road that linked Beirut to Damascus, and a marching post for the Druze and
Chehab rulers of the South Bekaa or Wadi Taym.
- Mazar El Sit Cha'wane
El Sit Cha'wane is a famous figure in the Druze religion. Like Job in the Old
Testament, she was held up as a model of virtue and devotion. A feretory was
erected in her name.
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More details about the Higher Shouf Villages