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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Aley > Ain Trez

Ain Trez - Oak Tree and El Saad Palace

Towards the end of the nineteen-sixties, I was in Paris at the Priests’ Hostel and had the opportunity to sit at table in the company of the Father Etienne Sakr, Rector of the USE, and of the Rector of Cologne University in Rhenan. The latter spoke of the civilization of “The Tree”, of “The Book”, and of “The Rock”, and of mankind in general. A country which loved and cultivated the tree, a country which loves books with their contents and democratization and propagation (the Internet not yet existing at that time), such a country was considered to offer a minimum of civilization and to respect the being and its values. The conversation was both long and lively. As for myself, I could not help thinking of Lebanon Land of the Tree, cradle of the alphabet and the book, of the great beauty of our rocks like so many temples and cathedrals and with unique sculptured forms. I thought also of the pioneers and of the saints of this wonderful Lebanon.

I know all the trees of Lebanon, the olive and the carob, the cedar and the oak, the nettle tree and the sycamore, the eucalyptus and the pine. Many of these trees are a thousand years old, particularly those glorious oaks to be found in the central squares of our villages and close to our churches, the latter where in the past the priest would give lessons to the little peasant children.

This oak tree is made in our likeness, bowing and kneeling to no one, proud before the rays of the sun from which its deep shade gives shelter. Some of these oaks have become mythic, such as that of Ain Traz, which bears witness to the history of the illustrious El-Saad family and to the history of Lebanon itself.

In ancient times these trees were considered to be the origins and sources of life, a tradition borne out in Deuteronomy 12:2, I Kings 14:23, and Isaiah 57:5 and by the story of Abraham at Mambre. We learn in Genesis, chapter 18, that Abraham pitched his tent under the oak of Mambre and there met the Lord. As in the case of the oak of Ain Traz, these trees are rooted in our past history, in our heritage, in our traditions and customs. This particular tree was cared for by the Saad family and became their symbol and inspiration. Under its shade there were meetings and gatherings of people from all over Lebanon. How many presidents, powerful figures, ambassadors, clergy and lovers have been seated beneath it, enraptured by its imposing presence!

Here is a unique presence, one a thousand years old, imposing by its shape, its grandeur, its branches stretching forty and more feet, its mighty trunk over thirty feet round, its height, its colors, its leaves, and its flowing lines.

At present it is cared for and protected, and its branches are propped up so they may weather the storms. It raises them up to heaven like the belfries of our churches to take us into a world of visions and to call us to prayer. It stands beside the Palace of the Saad family, whose history can be traced back to the sixteenth century, and whose ancestor was a priest, Father Beshara Mubarak of Ghosta in Kesserawan. His descendants were very close to the Shehab emirs (princes). Their distinguished ancestors, with at that time two Consuls of France, built the Palace for their descendants, who included the second President of the Lebanese Republic, Habib Basha el-Saad. The Saads have a family history closely bound up with the history of Lebanon and with that of the oak tree. The seminary school was either granted or sold for a purely symbolic sum to the Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarchate.

In those days of Ottoman occupation one could own a carob tree as a possession on the condition of having a deed of ownership for the tree, since from the carob one could extract treacle, the only sweetening available to poor people. But the oak tree, which has entered into our minds and prayers and beautiful songs, is not possessed by anyone, rather it possesses us, and we feel that it is an inseparable element of our existence.

The oak tree of Ain Traz is a monument just like Heliopolis, Sidon or Byblos; it is no mere refuge for birds but has a presence that is bound up with all us Lebanese.

Joseph MATAR

- Ain Trez: >> View Movie << (2012-05-01)
- Ain Trez 2: >> View Movie << (2012-05-01)


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