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Explore / South Beqaa

The southern part of Bekaa comprises: wine industry in Kefraya, the marches in Aammiq, the artificial lake in el-Qaraoun, the Umayyad site in Aanjar and its Roman ruins.



Aanjar

In ancient times, it was the best commercial site. At the foot of the Eastern Range, near the most important water source of Litani River, Aanjar had been a favored and distinguished site in Bekaa throughout the ancient and middle Ages, being a crossroad that leads to Homs, Tabaraya, Beirut and Damascus. It gained its riches and opulence from a spring flowing at the foot of the Eastern Range. The name "Aanjar" is the modified form of the "Ain Jarra", an ancient city which the Arabs founded in the Hellenistic period. In contrast with the ancient sites in Lebanon (Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Byblos), Aanjar lost its glamour rapidly: it did not flourish except for a few decades at the beginning of the 7th century. Besides the Mosque of Baalbek (from the same period), Aanjar is situated and dates back to the Umayyad period with respect to its being one of the most Important Cities in the Arab History.

 

How to Get to Aanjar?

After passing through Dahr el-Baidar, from Beirut towards Bekaa Plain and Chtaura, and before reaching the Masnaa checkpoint at the borderline, we see a sign board that indicates the direction to Aanjar at the left side. The ruins are seen at the left side of the entrance of the town.

 

Historical Background

The Umayyad Family is the first one that ruled by succession in the Islamic period (660 A.D. to 750 A.D.). Due to the efforts of the Great Caliphs, the Islamic Empire expanded till it reached the borders of India in the Far East and the South of France. Though the Caliphs ruled various and different nations that had multi cultures and traditions, those rulers remained attached to the Bedouin and tribal way of living, which allowed them to dominate all these territories. They used to leave their capital in the spring and set off from Damascus towards the outskirts of the semi-desert in Syria to hunt and to listen to the poets' verses.

Bit by bit, the Caliphs got used to living at the outskirts of the desert in permanent locations for the sake of hunting only. These sites were military fortresses and centers for gathering crops, and leading an urban life that could attract Bedouins to urbanization. Aanjar was the framework of this policy.

The Caliph, al Walid bin Abd el Malak (705 – 715), built Aanjar. It is about one kilometer southwest of Ain Jarra. The Caliph hired Syrian and Byzantine architects, artists, and decorators who had enough experience in the old artistic traditions. They came from the neighborhood and used colonnades with Byzantine and Roman chapters brought from the suburbs of an old city, "Jarrat-Shalkis". In 744 Marwan II (a Caliph) gave his order to demolish the place after he defeated Ibrahim Bin Al-Walid in a battle in order to seize power.

The neglected city gradually collapsed (till the end of the 14th century), so that nothing remained except some ruins in the middle of a big swamp. After Independence, the Directorate of Antiquities in Lebanon began to work on improving the site.

When the site was excavated and repaired in the early 1950s, there was no evidence about the relationship between Aanjar and Jarrat-Shlkis. It seems that the process of building the city hasn't been completed, but the remains show the architecture of the third Palace and the empty spaces at the eastern side of the Great Palace and in the northern section of the site. Most probably those spaces were green gardens in the heart of the city which was erected by Nestorian masons, who came from el-Jezira district in Syria, between the Furat River and el-Khabur River.

 

The site of Aanjar is rectangular in shape, surrounded by a wall of 370 meters long and 310 meters wide, it is also supported by thirty six semi-circular towers at the outer side and four round towers at the corners. The wall is a little over 7 meters high and 2 meters thick.

Its outer and inner parts are built with limestone and are filled inside with stones, pebbles and limestone. On the outer side of the wall, there are around sixty plaques with inscriptions dating back to the Umayyad period. One of these plaques dates back to 123 AH, i.e. 741 A.D. The buildings that are erected inside were modeled according to the Byzantine style: their stones are paved in succession with lined up clay stones. This economical, rapid and light way of building is derived from an old technique which makes the building appear resilient to earthquakes. The four sides of the wall are oriented toward the east, west, north and south.

In each side there is a doorway fortified by two semi-circular towers: the first one is oriented toward the south north side; the other is oriented to the east west side, dividing the inner part into four sections.

On the roads there is a network of water canals to dispose sewage water outside the city. There are 600 shops and roofed roads used by pedestrians. The roads intersect at a right angle in the center of the city below a square-shaped dome whose colonnades had been removed from an old building. At the foot of each colonnade a four-line inscription is seen. The houses that lay southwest of the area are grouped into several complexes separated by intersected alleys. Each complex includes two, four or six houses, all having one kind of an architectural design: an unroofed courtyard flanked by rooms. Some meters to the left side lays the Great Palace, the most beautiful component of the site. It comprises four buildings, forming a circle around an inner space that used to have a roofed doorway. It looks as though there had been a pond in the middle of this space.

At the right side of the courtyard entrance, there is a plaque on which two knights riding their horses are seen. On a column situated at the northwest side of the courtyard there is a Byzantine calligraphy surmounted by a swastika (a cross with twisted edges): "A monument for protection, dedicated to the prayer house, to Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, the most holy, the Mother of God, the everlasting Virgin, to our emperors whose hearts are filled with mercy and love for Christ".

There are two large rooms at the northern and southern sides of the hall where a Greek calligraphy is seen. At a short distance from the Great Palace lays a mosque that is 10 meters long and 20 meters wide. To the South of the Great Palace, there is a mihrab (prayer niche) that indicates the direction of the mosque toward Mecca. The mosque has a forecourt and a water basin for ablution as well as a prayer room. The main doorway of the mosque lays in the center of the northern wall and leads to the eastern side of the road. There is a by-side door that leads to the market at the road intersection.

 

Al-Harem or the small Castle: it is a structure with an inner courtyard, and it is decorated with a door, along with the foundations, a roof and a fountain in the middle.

 

At the left side of the main gate, there is a public bath whose architectural style is similar to that of the Byzantine or Roman one. The building is open unto the west. It has huge doors that lead to the south-northern side of the road. The bath includes a waiting room roofed with a dome supported by four columns; and hot and water cubicles under which there is a gas heater. Remains of a small bath at the northwest side of the main gate are seen.

The site opens daily from 8:00a.m. to 7:00p.m.

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Around Aanjar

Between Aanjar and Rashaya, many ruins of Roman temples are seen; these have not been repaired. On the top of the hill, in the village "Majdal Aanjar", lay the remains of a temple including the altar walls and around the site, the remains of columns and their capitals are scattered. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the site was transformed into a castle.

The small temple in Dekweh is still standing along with its altar and columns.

The temple of el-Manara is situated on the steep side of the hill and is known by the name "Qasr el-Wali" or "Ain Qniyeh". This Roman site has probably been turned into a basilica at some time. It is a square-shaped building inside which there is an altar flanked by sixteen columns. The site is enclosed by a huge wall. In the town of "Yanta", there are the remains of a temple.

Deir el-Aashayer Temple still retains its shape though it lost its stairway and roofed passage, but it is still intact inside. It is a huge temple flanked by columns planted in "Wadi el-Qarn" between Syria and Lebanon. It is believed that this temple used to lead to a small lake which was eventually drained by the passage of time till it became a fertile plain. In the town, "Kfarfouf", there are the remains of some temples one of which is still standing, and it includes several fountains.



Kamed el-Loz

The excavators discovered in the center of the city one of the most important hills in Bekaa: an artificial mountain made of ancient residence stores that date from the Neolithic Era till the Persian period (6th and 5th centuries B.C.). The excavators unearthed structures of buildings, among which were defense systems, temples, palaces, houses, factories and tombs. The hill is situated in a town called "Kumidi": it was known in the 14th century B.C. through Tell el-Aamarna letters. Most probably it was the head of an Egyptian colony in the area. At the entrance of the town, there is quarry that dates back to the 8th century. The sculptors who worked in building the site made it look as a wonderful scene.



Rashaya el-Wadi

At the foot of Mount Hermon or Jabal-el-Sheikh lays Rashaya el-Wadi. It still preserves its traditional architecture. In it, there is a citadel built by the Chehab Emirs. Later during the Mandatory period, the French authorities turned the citadel into a garrison.

 

How to Get There?

Before reaching the Masnaa area, you turn right to the south of Bekaa Plain. The city is at 27 kilometers away from this cross-road.

 

Historical Background

Due to the geographical location of Mount Hermon, between the entry way of the Syrian Desert and the Mediterranean Sea (it separates Mount Hermon from the sea by a distance of 50 kilometers), Rashaya el-Wadi was first a Roman colony (there are remains of Roman sarcophagi in el-Faqqaa' area). Then it became under the Crusader rule (there is a Crusade tower in the citadel of Rashaya). The Chehab dynasty ruled Wadi el-Taym (it was known as the valley of Jordan River).

The Chehabs settled in Rashaya around 1183 A.D., and dominated it during the Crusader and Mamluk Periods. Emir Bachir Shihab I was born in Rashaya. He succeeded his uncle Emir Ahmad Maani, who had no male descendant. Wadi el-Taym acquired great importance in the reign of Emir Fakhreddine II when he annexed it to the territories he had been ruling. During the reign of Emir Bechir II, the inhabitants of Wadi el-Taym refused the entry of Egyptian forces when the latter ones attacked Wadi el-Taym, and they experienced great losses. During the Qaim Maqam and el-Mutasarrifiyya periods, almost the entire district was subjugated to the authorities of Damascus. These areas became a part of Lebanon in 1920 during the French Mandatory period, or to be more specific, after the Great Syrian Revolution in 1925.

Rashaya el-Wadi is famous for its historic citadel "the Independence Citadel". It is also called "the Citadel of 22 November". The Crusaders built it in the 12th century for the protection of the merchant convoys between Palestine and Syria as well as for having a post of observation in order to watch the pilgrims and the travelers as they passed by Wadi el-Taym to visit Jerusalem.

The citadel perches on the top of three slopes, at a height of 1400 meters. Its area is 8000m2, and its entrance overlooks Mount Hermon. Its thick walls, caves and arcades look like those of the Qal'at ash-Shqif (Shqif Fortress) while its vaults and domes look like those of Beiteddine Palace. In the citadel, there are Roman ruins between which there is a passage-way that connects the citadel with Ain-Mry near the triangle of Aaqaba-Bekfaya. This 1500 meter underground passage was used by the fighters to provide suppliess and food in siege times. And in this citadel the French mandatory forces imprisoned the Political Leaders in Lebanon in 1943: Sheikh Bechara el-Khouri, the President; Riad el-Solh, the Prime minister; as well as members of the Lebanese Cabinet who were claiming independence for Lebanon. The tourist can visit the room in which the Political Leaders were held prisoners.

The Syriac-Catholic Church of Mar Moussa el-Habashi is the oldest church in Rashaya. It dates back to the 17th century, when the Syriacs came to Lebanon from Syria, Iraq, Anatolia, Sicily and Urfa. It is noted for its architecture and form that looks like a ship. It is a replica of the historic church "Qalaat Jendel" in Syria. Inside the church there is the icon of its patron saint, Moses the Ethiopian. This icon is rare of its kind, dating back to more than 500 years.

The traditional architectural pattern in Rashaya el-Wadi is reflected in its old wooden houses and red tiled roofs. It still retains its own features and today it comprises more than 300 houses with red tiles; the facades are embellished with beautiful arches, and the doors are noted for their semi circular arches. The arches are in general flanked by circles at both the right and left sides of the main door that also has windows. Balconies are supported with columns made of either iron or wood, and are decorated with iron work balustrades which are most often in the form of arrows, each crowned with a lotus flower (white Egyptian water-lily). The interior side of the house includes several rooms (4 to 8); all of which lead to a large room called the "Liwan". Most often these houses are surrounded with gardens that are noted for the height of their roofs of 4 meters high.

 

Crafts

Rashaya el-Wadi is widely known for its industry, especially its silver work. This craft dates back to the 17th century, during the reign of the Chehab Emirs. Silver works includes earrings, necklaces, rings and belt manufacturing. These items of silver jewelry were sold in Jabal el-Arab and Aleppo. The churches along the Syrian shore-line used to import from Rasahya el-Wadi crosses and artistry works that reflected the skillfulness of the craftsmen in Rashaya. Until now this domain is active, and some factories are still producing such crafts. Rashaya is also known for its kerosene heaters that are called "Sobias".



Around Rashaya

In Ain Harcha there is a temple which is still in good condition. It is a Roman temple whose roof has fallen down. In its architectural style, it resembles Baalbek pillars. It dates back to 113 or 114 B.C. On its walls there are sculptures that represent the moon-goddess, "Celan" and the sun-god, "Helios". The religious Druze site (Maqam el-Sheikh Fadel) in Ain-Ata used to be a holy place in an ancient archeological center. On the entrance, there are Roman inscriptions and engravings as well as a carved stone that represents an eagle about to fly.

The ruins of the Roman citadel in Aiha overlook the Plain. This structure includes statues and carved inscriptions on the rocks that date back to a period before Christ. It also includes columns and carved rocks that were used in building the village houses.



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