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Panoramic Views > Bekaa > El Hermel > Orontes River - Nahr el Assi

Nahr el-Assi, the Orontes River

If one travels from Beirut to Hermel, 143km. away, but before reaching there turns to the west, one comes to Ain Zarqa, the abundant spring which is the source of the river Orontes, in Arabic El-Assi, the rebel. Only a short distance from the source of the river Litani, which flows southwards, the Assi, the rebel, runs to the north, entering Syria passing by Homs and Hama, crossing the Southern Gharb and reaching Antioch, before turning towards the Mediterranean, north of Lattiqiyeh. The Orontes rises up between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges at the height of Heliopolis, Baalbek. It waters the land for some 500 kilometers, and so may be compared to the Garonne in France. According to Strabo, for some eight kilometers the Orontes flowed underground between Amapaea and Antioch, but in fact it only runs through a narrow enclosing gorge, where it is almost inaccessible, just after Hama, the ancient Epiphanie.

Its valley is highly fertile allowing an abundant agriculture with cereals, fruit trees, vines, and trees for oils and nuts. 450km. long, the river draws water from the mountains of North Lebanon, from the Nossairi Mountains and then from its tributary the Afrine. Its outlet was at Antioch, the capital of the East in the Roman Empire, with a very important port, of which some imposing quays can still be seen. Its waters still turn day and night the famous Norias or water wheels which provide water for several townships. There is lively tourist activity. At a height of some ninety meters in the ravine near Ain Zarqa there are the hollowed cells of the monastery of Saint Maroun, which may be reached by climbing up the rocks.

There are some characteristic falls, such as those of Dardara, name of a conifer abundant in the region, with a bridge over the river of the same name. Those who practice the now popular sport of canoeing have an opportunity to enjoy themselves. There is a cedar forest, and archaeological sites at Brissa, a Byzantine church and a Mesopotamian monument with cuneiform inscription, and water wheels, the most famous of which is that of Al-Aninya not far from an ancient bridge of the same name linking Syria with Lebanon. There is a natural barrage a couple of kilometers from the Dardara bridge, around which many tales have been woven. The tunnels bored through the rock by Queen Zenobia supplied water to the ancient city of Palmyra, Tadmor in Arabic.

Hundreds of vehicles daily come to this source for their passengers to spend the day in the valley with its restaurants, inns and suppliers of sporting equipment for boating and swimming. There are tanks for fish-farming. All here is rich, welcoming and smiling.

- Orontes River - Nahr el Assi: >> View Movie << (2009-05-01)



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