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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Jbeil-Byblos > Village Edde

The village Eddeh – The Fortress

The name Eddeh may well be derived from Syriac or Aramaic and indicate a laurel bush, in view of the large number of laurels that grow in the district. Alternatively, it might indicate force, resistance, defiance or toughness. Eddo appears as a proper name in the Bible (Esdras 8/17), where it indicates either power or a thick mist.

The village of Eddeh is twenty-five miles north from Beirut and three miles north of Byblos (Jbeil). It stretches over a long hill rising between two valleys that open down at the sea. An asphalt road winds from a height of nearly one thousand feet down to the highway along the coast.

But apart from all this, in Lebanon the name Eddeh has become a sort of “ icon”, a myth, like the place-names The Cedars, Sassine, Beit ed-Deen, Harissa, Heliopolis (Baalbek), Tyre, Byblos, and several others. Who in Lebanon has not heard Eddeh spoken about or at least mentioned?

For some it is the name of supermen, powerful people, while many are unaware that there is another village bearing the same name quite close to Batroun. For some again, it is a name standing for politicians, that is to say “gas bags”, who are many, while for yet others it is the family name of real statesmen, that is to say those who can foresee future developments un advance and propose concrete measures to deal with them.

I personally am an admirer of two members of this family, ones who were the only two real statesmen that Lebanon has known. May I make myself clear: after the First World War, and again during the second half of the twentieth century, Europe and the West in general knew very few real statesmen, among whom one may cite Churchill, De Gaulle and McArthur. The fact is that true statesmen are born every millennium, while mere politicians are born every day by the thousands, like rabbits. It is impossible for me to mention Eddeh without recalling its sons. For me, the men of Eddeh have stood for my ideal of sovereignty, liberty and true democracy.

As for the picturesque village of Eddeh, I discovered it strangely enough in 1961 when in Paris, in the Louvre to be exact, in the galleries of oriental antiquities. When I was studying in the University of Madrid I went in the summer to Paris in order to prepare another thesis, and there I stayed a long time. I hardly ever slept, for I was working night and day. In a city like Paris it is impossible to find time for sleep, for one must make the most of every second. To cut a long story short, in one of the above-mentioned galleries I stopped in front of a door lintel inscribed with the name of the church of Saint George of Eddeh, above which was a winged globe and two uraeus, that is to say an ancient Egyptian symbol. I understood that this lintel had been unearthed by the illustrious Ernest Renan, who had embarked on excavations in Phoenicia and studied the land along all the coast and elsewhere in Lebanon. This was my first contact with the village. The second was in 1964 when I finally returned from Spain for good.

I happened to know the then bishop of Byblos and other priests and friends there. I went to see the church or chapel of Saint George that Renan had discovered and then taken its doorway. I recognized it as standing on ancient ruins; here there had passed the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders and others, for the place was only a short ride from Byblos. Eddeh is a group of agreeable hills, dips and valleys, dotted with a number of churches, Mar Jerjes the parish church, Mar Elisha (Eliseus), Mar Yuhanna, Mar Tadros, Mar Mikhaïl, Our Lady of Douka (Duchess), Mar Elias, and others of recent construction. In fact there are at Eddeh as many churches as houses, for every house harbors an altar dedicated to Our Lord and to the Virgin Mary, for prayer runs deep in our traditions.

Eddeh is an agricultural area, with terraces rising up tier upon tier from the depths of the valley until they spread out into broad fields on the hilltop. An elderly peasant recalled for me that the plots used to be planted with cereals, vines, olive groves, carob trees and orchards of figs. There still exists an old olive press now transformed into a hall next to the parish church reserved for special occasions.

One old inhabitant told me how more than fifty years ago his father used to till the fields and sow cereals while his children helped him to dig, weed, and remove the big stones. Then, when this work was done, they would use pointed sticks to make furrows in the corners where there was rich soil between the rocks out of reach of the plowing oxen. Then they made small holes into which they placed a grain or two of wheat in order to increase the yield. All the work was by hand and a matter of trial and error. Wells were dug to collect rainwater for household use and for watering.

Starting from 1961, the wave of town planning has spread its tentacles, following along the new coastal highway. Functional modern houses have been put up around tarred avenues, each with a pleasant garden and trees giving shade or fruit. But this has also meant uncontrolled destruction and in the name of modern planning a thousand-year-old heritage has been destroyed from down by the coast up to the upper slopes of the mountains.

In Eddeh itself dynamite has been used to turn a whole hillside into a quarry, making an unsightly gash in a site of considerable charm. The whole ecology, the environment, the customs, the heritage, all have suffered to give place to pollution, ugliness and disorder. With the comparatively recent events of 1975 to 1990, illegal activity without respect for the law and civilized norms, each person acting in his own interest, together with other evils, have had irreparable consequences, even though well-off people have built luxurious residences surrounded by broad roads and well-cared-for gardens bright with flowers of every color.

A village is not made up of infrastructure alone. Eddeh and the other villages of the area have been connected with Byblos by roads, electrical power cables and telephone services, with schools and sports and cultural activities, in a way harmonizing with the surroundings and bringing the habitations together.

The people here are peace-loving, friendly and welcoming and all have a concern for their ancestral background, their remoter ancestors, grandparents and parents. Certain names such as Ibrahim, Yusuf, Emile, Paul, Roger, Pierre and George are handed down. As the French are necessarily from France and the Germans from Germany, so the children of Eddeh wish to be known as “Eddeans” first and foremost. The families of the village, the Khourys, the Doumits, the Rizks, the Merhis, and the Fayads, all from the same ancestral stock, have retaken the name Eddeh, which they are proud to bear.

The people here are active and very open to modern realities, adapting themselves to the tendencies of the moment. While the young of the locality are moving with the times, a certain chauvinism is to be discerned despite the general kind-heartedness.

Lebanon has a reputation for goodness, affection and hospitality – perhaps too much of the latter for its own good! It has a message for all mankind and can never change its aspect or its mission.

Here I feel I must pause to consider one branch of the Eddeh family tree, that of Badawi, Yusuf, Emile, Raymond and Pierre. The first Raymond had no offspring, but the whole free nation considered him a father to whom it was indebted. From this branch two statesmen emerged, Emile and Raymond, and a great and incomparable financier by the name of Pierre.

The first, Emile, wished to assure the independence of his country, one that would be solid and durable. The second stood for a democracy that was just, with citizenship implying freedom, social justice, respect for values, and development in every field, for which the nation should be governed with honesty, intelligence and courage.

Unfortunately things did not turn out this way. After the departure of the French forces and the proclamation of independence, official corruption dominated every field with results that we suffer from even now. Who is responsible for this mess? Let each one consider for himself.

Raymond Eddeh, the “Amid”, who was never mistaken, said to me once: “It is the Holy Virgin and our saints who protect Lebanon. The state is noticeable by its absence, it is nonexistent.” This little village of Eddeh has produced high-minded men of the greatest distinction.

Eddeh is to Lebanon what the little rocky islands of the Aegean Sea were to Greece when they produced the greatest thinkers of Antiquity and when their thought shone brilliantly in the face of an Asia Minor, Anatolia, part of an immense continent overshadowed by disorder and intellectual inertia.

Another characteristic of the people of Eddeh is their attachment to the great Maronite nation, it being understood that the greatness of a nation depends not on a population of millions or thousands of millions but on the message that it bears for the world. Several other Lebanese towns and villages, many of them obscure, have sent a message to mankind, such as Beqaa Kafra with its holy hermit Sharbel, Hardeen with its saint Hardini, Bsharri at the foot of the Cedars celebrated for Gebran, Tyre, Sidon and Byblos, known for Europa, Cadmus and the alphabet, and Heliopolis-Baalbek with its grandiose temples.

I think I can say that I know personally nearly all the present inhabitants of Eddeh, fine people who as I said before are hospitable, courageous, honest and exemplary responsible citizens. Eddeh also enjoys the honor of having among its children many priests, monks, religious and nuns. Almost every family includes university professionals.

Because of Eddeh’s proximity to Byblos, it has no tourist facilities properly speaking but all is possible, for it can offer centers of attraction in many fields. The young have their club and organize a festival, a dinner, competitions, conferences and outings. The largest tourist complex in Byblos, where it stretches along the shore, bears the name of Edde Sands.

But Eddeh does have an industrial zone, a school, and a hostel, and much of its ancient prosperity, the existence of which is born out by ruins from the past, remains to be rediscovered. With its equable climate, most of the people born in Eddeh are to be found there during both summer and winter.

Joseph Matar
Translation from the French: Kenneth J. Mortimer

Legends and Facts

I am going to talk about a place, a site, which I leave rather vague, an anonymous Lebanese village with its houses, its memories, its customs, and its old remains, all going back to a time which belongs to the past. I shall talk of odd nooks where we loved to go during our childhood but which modern trends have completely wiped out once and for all. In these places we used to live and carry on our traditions of births, baptisms, feast days, dances, internments, folklore, games, family visits, love and friendship, the four seasons, and harvest time.

“In 1936 two French archeologists, Mr. and Mrs. Dunand, were finishing an exhaustive dig at Byblos, when they made an important discovery: under the last levels where the ashes of twenty civilizations lay on top of one another, they were surprised to find the most ancient dwellings of stone blocks known in the world, dating from a time when Egypt and Chaldea knew to build only with brooks of baked earth. Here in Lebanon man dared to attack the hard rock.” (Charles Corm)

What was unusual about these ancient houses in Byblos was that each one in addition to hewn stone walls had seven pillars, of which three were enclosed on the right-hand wall and three n the left-hand wall, with the seventh standing in the middle of the dwelling in order to hold up the roof and consolidate the pillars in the walls by means of beams of wood which it bore horizontally. From the plan of such houses the emblem of the seven pillars of wisdom was derived.

For my paintings I have done a great deal of research and work on the theme of “the house and the village in Lebanon “.

The house and its inmates have a very intimate relationship, bearing on hospitality, respect for values. friendships, mutual confidence, patience, help to one another, generosity and customs, all of which is reflected in the simplicity of the environment of the dwelling. The concept of a house is simple but functional, with a cellar, a terrace and an “upper room”. The traditional house was occupied only in the evening, for in the morning and throughout the day its inhabitants were out in the fields working.

The terrace of the main room was held up by a stone column or by the large trunk of a tree, while the terrace itself was of puddled earth spread over boards and branches and well packed by a heavy roller so as not to let through the rain. Sometimes the houses had two or three rooms, including a large reception room.

Built into one of the inner walls of the large room was the famous youk (a Turkish word). This was a large space inset in the wall like a doorless cupboard where were stacked mattresses and blankets, which in the evening were spread over the floor as bedding. In the entrance or on the terrace was a stand for the water jars, with two large holes in which were stood the jars, with beside them a jug with a spout and perhaps a couple of cups so one could serve oneself with drinking water.. In the place where people ate there would be a small rectangular wooden table six to twelve inches high which would be placed in the middle for mealtimes. Everybody would sit around it cross-legged on the floor, stretching out their hands to serve themselves.

The fire was not lit indoors because of the smoke, but in a corner out of the wind, the sun and the rain. Bread was kneaded and baked in the cellar or some such convenient place.

In the Lebanese household work was distributed according to the seasons, most of it coming in August, September and October, with the harvests, the cleaning and the chopping of wood for cooking and heating. Above all there was the preparation of the mouneh, that is to say the winter provisions for man and beast; this comprised burghol (wheat crush and then dried in the sun), cereals, jams, tomato purée, sun-dried fruits, kishk (dried labneh – curds ground up with fine borghol), butter products, cheese, labneh, oil, distillations, and so on. Most important was peace of mind, understanding, a happy family life.

One such traditional house is still occupied on the north-east side of the village of Eddeh. The interior is formed of several arches, making it very picturesque. One can still see the youk. The main room is separated by a diwan where one can sit down or go to sleep. The house is simply furnished with the bare needs, nothing superfluous. One notices the serviettes hung on the walls and the carpets spread on the floor. The house gives an impression of cleanliness, of welcoming warmth and of repose, with delightful cheerfulness.

Another old house, on the south side of Eddeh, is no more than an empty ruin. But over the terrace there is still a vine laden with bunches of succulent grapes. Here also the interior is in the form of arches. One finds only one window left and that has broken glass, while the wood of the doors has all rotted. One feels that people just like ourselves have in the past lived here and loved the place. There is the ghost of a hearth where there are some ashes and fragments of wood. There is a broken jug and a reservoir into which water drips from the ceiling, in all of which memories linger. Yes, nostalgia lies heavy in the air and even the garden is abandoned and weeds push up everywhere.

One particular day, I went for a walk, going from Annaya to Ehmej, and found myself a little lower down at Kfaar Baal, a village opening on to a wide horizon. A valley stretched to where I saw a couple of isolated houses. The first one was occupied, furnished, and clean, with carpets on the floor, looking very agreeable. There was a large room divided into two halves. There was one corner for use in the evenings and another with a large table for receiving guests and for use as a dining room. The two parts of the room wee separated by a wooden cupboard behind which lay the kitchen.

In the interior were four columns, thick whitewashed tree-trunks, which supported the terrace. This also was composed of tree-trunks with branches and puddled earth compressed by a stone roller. I guessed this house to be a hundred years old but still habitable and breathing nostalgia. Such houses nowadays are not often to be found but in this case there was still life and movement with a feeling of warmth, so its occupants could consider themselves favored by fortune!

The second house was in good condition but more or less abandoned. It was occupied by an elderly peasant who did not wish to adapt himself to modern times. The main room was used as a store room, a dump. Were it to be restored, cleaned up and repainted, this house could be made as pleasant as the other one.

In both houses the emplacements of the youk and the divan were both visible. Our forefathers were not very demanding. The four houses I have spoken of are very rare examples and show that before the age of reinforced concrete and the new techniques people knew how to enjoy life and be happy.

Now the old relationship between the home and its occupants have been lost. Can this rich jewel be got back? Yes, surely it can! I remember how some fifty years ago I was offered tea on the terrace of this house which then was so clean and so full of life and movement.

Joseph Matar
Translation from the French: Kenneth J. Mortimer

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