Halfway up the slopes
of Mount Lebanon, between eight hundred and one
thousand meters’ altitude, fifty kilometers from
Beirut, atop the hills running north-south, beautiful
and picturesque like no others, looking over the
deep green valley of the River Salimeh, is a beautiful
woodland offering a splendid view extending eastwards
to the distant summits of Mount Sannine.
Here there is a unique pinewood where are summer
resorts sought after by the people of Beirut, who
have called this forest region their “Bois de Bologne”
after the woods going from the north-east to the
south-east of Paris.
The Lebanese Bois de Bologne is on the heights of
the district of North Metn., a site from where one
can easily reach Mtein, Antoura, Almrouj and Khanshara
on one side and Beit Mery, Broummana and Baabdat
on the other. To reach Bois de Bologne we go to
the crossroads at Shweir (the little rock or cliff),
which is a village of great beauty thickly planted
with pine trees. Here we find its cathedral, standing
before the main square of the village, with its
two towers, its belfry, and its dome. Dedicated
to the Holy Savior, it belongs to the Greek Catholic
community. Lower down is the Greek Catholic monastery
St. John of Khonshara, where there is one of the
very first printing presses of the Orient. Durant
the presence of the Allies after the First World
War, the Bois de Bologne provided agreeable relaxation
for all the Beirut high society.
Luxurious residences rise up among the trees, the
hotels and the restaurants and here important events
take place, such as the election of beauty queens,
tourist festivals and exhibitions. On the cultural
plane, there are exhibitions of art, painting and
sculpture with prizes awarded to encourage artists.
One of my collector friends used to say to me often:
“These three works I acquired at a show at Bois
de Bologne, and this one here took the first prize.”
This gives an idea of the class of people who come
to this elevated region and particularly of the
cultural level of the summer visitors, going there
to buy works of art.
The Mediterranean pine abounding there is much loved
by the Lebanese, as are the olive tree, the vine
and various others, loved not only for its attractive
slender forms throwing pure blue shade. It is a
productive tree, for its pinecones are picked up
and sent to agricultural centers in the region for
the extraction of the seeds, which are sold at a
good price, at present over $40 a kilo.
The hay-day of Bois de Bologne lasted barely a half-century.
With the war of 1975-1990, Syrian troops invested
the whole region and gone were the riches and the
well-looked-after properties, gardens and residences.
The four-storied Jabre Palace became their HQ, while
other houses were transformed into prisons where
innocent Lebanese were tortured, beaten and given
electric shocks. The Syrians cared for neither culture
nor civilization and tore up furniture, carpets,
doors, windows, sanitary fixtures, tiles, stones,
pipes, glass panes, and so on to take them away
to Syria. Houses were burnt, looted and bespattered.
There are gardens where nothing more grows because
of the oil, diesel fuel and other filth poured into
them. Children under fourteen who did not like the
Syrian occupiers were put in the prisons, beaten
and made to suffer.
After the evacuation of the Syrians, all the people
who had fled North Metn rushed to take back and
restore their property. The courageous Lebanese
gave back to this region its life and activity,
so it is now a paradise where the reigns calm, serenity
and love. Anguish however still fills the hearts;
can one imagine a brother and neighbor who acts
so barbarously towards a people from whom comes
goodness, love and learning?
Bois de Bologne is a district one must visit, to
stretch oneself below its pines and to contemplate
its splendor. One leaves it haunted by nostalgia
and with the prayer of thanks that one sends up
to the Creator.