In the north of Lebanon, like a peaceful refuge, the holy valley welcome monks seeking silence since the first centuries of Christianity. Ethiopians, Nestorians, Armenians, Melkites and Jacobites settled here in monasteries nestled on the steep slopes of the mountains lost in the Forest of the Cedars of God.
In the 7th century, seeking to escape persecution by the Ottomans, the Maronite monks settled in the Qadisha, whose caves offered ideal protection against their enemies. They made heroic efforts to build several hermitages on the rock of the mountains. Among them, the monasteries of Saint Anthony of Qozhaya, Our Lady of Hauqqa, Qannoubine and Mar Lichaa.
Later, in this green bower, where only the breath of the wind echoes the Greek, Syriac, Ethiopian and Arab psalmodies, the Maronite patriarchs come to live and pray away from the world. Protected by the sheer cliffs and galleries that extend throughout the mountains, they settled here permanently without fear of invaders.
Thus, the Monastery of Our Lady of Qannoubine, a simple grotto in 375 after Christ, became the seat of the Maronite patriarchate in the 15th century. The church, half built in the hollow of the rock, houses 18th and 19th century wall paintings in Byzantine style, including a beautiful Coronation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Trinity.
Under pressure from the Mamelukes and Ottomans, the monks and patriarchs are momentarily joined by the people fleeing the massacres.
Abandoned by the monks at the beginning of the 20th century, the building was restored in the 1990s and now houses a community of Antonine sisters.
In 1998, for its natural, historical, architectural and religious heritage, the Qadisha Valley is listed in the UNESCO world heritage as the majestic forest of the "Cedars of God", emblems of Lebanon. These trees of Cilicia, mentioned 103 times in the Bible and used during antiquity to build religious buildings (such as the two temples of Jerusalem) as well as Phoenician ships, are between 1000 and 3000 years old.
Today, the many pilgrims who come to pray and meditate mix with nature lovers who walk to the hollow of the valley's gorges to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Qadisha. The steep paths reveal to the eyes of the walkers the treasures that the forest keeps preciously. On the heights, the cereal plantations overlook the vines that are basking in the sun. If centuries separate the Maronite monks of yesteryear and the pilgrims of today, the same fervor resounds in the silence.
Thanks to UNESCO, everyone is committed to preserving the authenticity of the Holy Valley. The hiking trail, from the village of Bcharré to the summit of the Makmel mountain, maintains a low profile to lead walkers along a century-old scenery to a magnificent panorama.
On the way, it is common to come across one of the last hermits who lives in a cave that has been converted into a troglodyte cave. Between his vegetable garden and his oratory, he offers a glimpse of what the life of the first monks must have been like. Smiling, the hermit often explains the daily rhythm of life. Many hours of prayers, some manual work, a few others studying the holy texts and those who stay to sleep.
Life seems to have stopped in the heart of the mountains. Apart from the monasteries, only a few houses are inhabited. Connected to a small hydroelectric power station to benefit from electricity, they blend into the landscape.
The Qadisha Valley is one of the great pride of Lebanon and enjoys a worldwide reputation.