Ouadi Qadisha (the Holy Valley) and the Forest of the Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el-Rab)
Ouadi Qadisha (the Holy Valley) And The Forest Of The Cedars Of God (Horsh Arz El-Rab)
Cultural Lebanon Arab States Qadisha Valley, Becharre District, Governorate Of North Lebanon

Qadisha (Holy) Valley has been the site of monastic communities continuously since the earliest years of Christianity. The trees in the Cedar Forest are survivors of a sacred forest and of one of the most highly prized building materials of the ancient world.

Many of the caves in the Qadisha occupied by the Christian anchorites had been used earlier as shelters and for burials, as far back as the Palaeolithic period. Since the early centuries of Christianity, the Holy Valley served as a refuge for those in search of solitude. Syrian Maronites fled there from religious persecution from the late 7th century onwards, and this movement intensified in the 10th century following the destruction of the Monastery of St Marun. The Maronite monks established their new centre at Qannubin, in the heart of the Qadisha, and monasteries that combined eremitism with community life quickly spread over the surrounding hills.

At the end of the Crusades the Qadisha caves witnessed dramatic actions against their supporters, the Maronites. The Mameluke sultans Baibars and Qalaoun led campaigns in 1268 and 1283 respectively against these fortress-caves and the surrounding villages. Despite these attacks, the Deir Qannubin monastery was to become the seat of the Maronite Patriarch in the 15th century and to remain so for 500 years. In the 17th century the Maronite monks' reputation for piety was such that many European poets, historians, geographers, politicians and clergy visited and even settled in the Qadisha.

The Holy Valley was, however, not merely the centre of the Maronites. Its rocky cliffs gave shelter to other Christian communities over the centuries - Jacobites (Syrian Orthodox), Melchites (Greek Orthodox), Nestorians, Armenians, even Ethiopians. The cedar (Cedrus lebani ) is described in ancient works on botany as the oldest tree in the world. It was admired by the Israelites, who brought it to their land to build the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Historical sources report that the famous cedar forests were beginning to disappear at the time of Justinian in the 6th century AD.

The long, deep Qadisha Valley is located at the foot of Mount al-Makmal in northern Lebanon. Through it the Holy River, Nahr Qadisha, runs for 35 km, from its source in a cave a little way below the sacred cedars. The slopes of the valley form natural ramparts, and their steep cliffs contain many caves, often at more than 1,000 m and all difficult of access. Around them are the terraces made by the hermits for growing grain, grapes and olives. The hermitages, consisting of small cells no more than the height of a man and sometimes with walls closing them off, take advantage of irregularities in the rock, which explains their uneven distribution. Some have wall paintings still surviving.

There are four main monastic complexes: the Qannubin Monastery is on the north-east side of the Qadisha. It is the oldest of the Maronite monasteries;the Monastery of St Anthony of Quzhayya is on the opposite flank of the Qadisha. Tradition has its foundation in the 4th century by St Hilarion, in honour of the Egyptian anchorite, St Anthony the Great, although the earliest documentary records date back only to around 1000;the Monastery of Our Lady of Hauqqa (Saydet Hauqqa) is situated at an altitude of 1,150 m between Qannubin and Quzhayya, at the base of an enormous cave;the Monastery of Mar Lichaa (Mar Lisa or St Elisha), mentioned first in the 14th century, is shared by two communities, a Maronite solitary order and the Barefoot Carmelite order. It consists of three or four small cells, a refectory and some offices;the communal church includes four chapels cut into the rock face.