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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > El Maten > Bolonia

Bois de Bologne - Ghabet Bolonia - Bolonia Forest

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.

William MATAR

- Bolonia Forest
: >> View Movie << (2009-10-01)

 

 


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