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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Jbeil-Byblos > Bentael Natural Reserve

Bentael Natural Reserve - Bentaël or Bent-IL

The canton of Jbeil-Byblos is limited by the Adonis River on its southern border, by Madfoun Valley to the North, and by the shore of the Mediterranean on the western side. Annaya, Qartaba and Afca nestle on its upper slopes rising towards the eastern border along the crest of the Lebanon range. It is a region scored by deep ravines, one of which to the north of the city of Byblos shelters seven or eight hamlets called the Corners and is of great historical interest and attraction for tourists. There are remains dating from the Phoenicians and from the Crusaders as well as many interesting churches, cellars and caves. The term corner comes up very frequently in place names such as the Greek Orthodox Corner, the Shehwan Corner, the Red Corner, the Black Peak Corner, and so on.

The site called Bentaël is the top of a ridge squeezed between valleys like many others in Lebanon, between the localities of Eddeh and Hboub and ranging from 1,300 to 2,700 feet above sea level. One sees a stretch that is strongly marked, winding and deep, on the slopes and heights of which lie the several scattered pretty villages known as the Corners. The landscape has kept its somewhat wild character and has been baptized the Bentaël Valley. The name may perhaps be derived from the Aramaic term for Jackal Cubs or for Jackal Land, or more logically from a Phoenician expression meaning Daughter of God for the superb crops grown there.

Bentaël is thirty miles from Beirut and about three miles from the village of Eddeh, through which one must pass in order to reach it. Its part of the valley stretches over several steep slopes up a very deep area dominated by some ancient houses and some new ones which enliven the region and add picturesque charm. A thick mantle of forest extends from the valley up to the hilltops, with oaks, pines, carob trees and cypresses, making a scene of abundant verdure.

Most of the inhabitants are there during both summer and winter, for communication outside is easy and use of all the different kinds of services and infrastructure presents no problem, there being telephone lines, electric power supplies, schools, medical facilities and shopping centers. As well as following various professions and trades, the people generally cultivate their plots of land.

The people of Bentaël have made the decision to devote a large area of their heritage to form a nature reserve, being helped in this by the Ministry of the Environment. As their project came to fruition the fauna and flora began to flourish. Birds such as partridges, grouse, blackbirds and nightingales were released in the area, together with animals such as tortoises, gazelles, wild boar, hares, porcupines, squirrels, and jackals, and various kinds of butterflies, moths and insects of interest or ecological importance. Every kind of hunting or shooting is forbidden in the reserve and also the lighting of cooking fires for picnics. Cleanliness and general maintenance are the object of special attention, and water flows in the canals.

Many visiting nature-lovers and amorous couples are always to be found here. There are all sorts of activities such as hikes and rallies to suit the taste of everybody, taking groups from Bentaël to Annaya, Kafra and elsewhere. There are guided visits and walks, bird-watching, star-gazing, photography trips, educational outings, exploring, and presentations with documentaries. There are formative games and competitions of every kind, sports poetry recitations and chess matches.

This reserve, which may be visited all the year round, was founded in 1981 to protect the region from ugly urban sprawl, and has legal status through the law of February 1999.

The nature reserve strictly so-called is well over half a mile (one kilometer) long and between 350 and 550 yards wide, forming a stretch of nearly three hundred acres, fifty of which include Mediterranean pine, woods, caves, rocks and cliffs.

Within the reserve there is the twelfth-century chapel of Saint John and not far from the village is the church of Saint Theodore, the oldest in Lebanon, decorated with wall paintings dating back to the ninth century. There is also a carved stone revealing Phoenician sacrifice and dating from 1,500 years before Christ.

There are many projects being studied by the FFEM (Fond français environnement mondial) in order to strengthen the network of Lebanese nature reserves thanks to the supply of financial, technical and administrative resources and support for the execution of plans for the management of natural resources and their long-term use and for promoting greater diversity of eco-systems.

With increasing concern for the protection of plant and animal species and of the countryside in general, and for the integrity and diversity of the different types of woodland, the little nature reserve of Bentaël has taken on more and more importance for the whole region. So now when they say “Bentaël”, people are thinking of the reserve rather than of the villages and the region of “the Corners”. By all means visit the nature reserve when you go to Bentaël and follow the romantic winding way up to Annaya, but do not forget to visit the church of Saint Theodore, patron saint of the region.

Joseph Matar - Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

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