During the nineteen-fifties it was a great pleasure
of mine to take a public bus going in the direction
of Batroun. But just before reaching there my curiosity
was aroused by a village to my right crowning a
hill with its belfry and its houses nestling among
the flowers and verdure of spring, in particular
the almond trees spreading over the terraces whose
blossom early in the year had the effect of fallen
snow covering the entire hillside. I was reminded
of my classes of Arabic literature where I learnt
about a favorite wife of the Caliph, the Muslim
ruler of Andalusia, who expressed a desire to see
the country under the snow.
To satisfy her whim, the Caliph ordered the surroundings
to be planted with almond trees. Then in the spring
the couple sat on the terrace at Alhambra in Grenada
and contemplated this “snow” made of the flower
of the almond trees.
This little village I noticed from the bus was Feghal,
and every time that I passed by I was filled with
admiration; in due course I had the satisfaction
of wandering around the entire place, where I made
many friends and acquaintances. How full it was
of picturesque retreats, trees each full of character,
and compositions of fairylike beauty!
Feghal is about seven miles from Byblos (Jbeil)
to the south and five from Batroun to the north.
There is just one road leading to it from the coastal
highway and it enjoys a certain independence and
The whole village forms one big family, united for
better or for worse. This is a family where all
help one another, a community that has organized
itself and cares for all that is of common interest
in the village: there is an olive and carob press
which serves everybody and an artesian well which
supplies the whole village with water. Walls, roads
and water channels are all kept under constant repair
and running thanks to the common effort. There is
no lack of telephone service or of electric power.
The church is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel
and dominates the valley and the village with its
tall pointed steeple. Many a “tannour” oven has
been abandoned for few are they who bother to bake
their bread at home, now that it can be easily brought
from the supermarket. Feghal has a town council
with a well-deserved reputation, for several of
the sons of the village are well placed in present
I recently returned to Feghal and found myself completely
lost. I was in another country, on another planet,
surrounded by thousands of dried-up trees, broken,
moldering, blackened, in a word a place completely
foreign. “Yes,” I was told, “when a workman demands
twenty-five or thirty-five dollars a day there is
no more profit.”
So the village lies abandoned, dead, mournful, with
scrub and weeds pushing up on all sides. It is a
sad spectacle now that there is no more labor available
even to pick the olives, which are left black and
withered on the branches and on the ground underneath.
Around the houses the flowers and the greenery are
still cared for; but as regards the village as a
whole with its terraces and hills, one can only
hope for a miracle. To plow, plant, hoe, restore
life, all this is another problem, a tragedy of
which the locals are fully aware.
Poor Feghal, the heart of Andalusia hewn out of
this wonderful hill!
At present, in fact, a group of “Greens” is planning
to do something about the environment. A track has
been laid out at the bottom of the valley to allow
weekend hikes and to connect certain views, religious
houses and sites facing Feghal and so to bring some
life to the area. This village is really worth a
visit for every bend in the way has its surprises
and remains of the past awaken nostalgia for days
As for the village steeple, it is said that when
the parish priest of the village was traveling abroad
in France, he got to Lille where he saw a bell tower
in the form of a spire pointing up to heaven. The
priest wanted to copy this and so the church tower
of Feghal came to be.
Feghal is the last village of the Byblos administrative
district before its northern boundary, where the
river, or rather torrent, at the bottom of its valley
separates Byblos from Batroun. This river is called
the Madfoun. The name Feghal is of Syriac origin
and means the face of the waves or perhaps facing
the waves, the waves riding the blue sea in front.
Sweet water gushes from several springs scattered
here and there.
The patron saint of the village is the Archangel
Michael, but there are also other churches and ancient
sanctuaries such as those of Mar Sarkis (Saint Sergius),
Our Lady, and Saint Sassine, and notably the venerable
Church of Saint Anthony the Great down in the valley.
Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer
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