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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Kesserwan > Wadi es Saleeb

Wadi es-Saleeb - Valley of the Cross

To speak of one’s heritage, of traditions, customs and manners, is not easy in these days of rapid evolution and dizzying changes of the norms of society coming in quick succession, but there are still corners tucked away in Lebanon and the world outside which have remained unaffected. Among them is this Valley of the Cross, Wadi es-Saleeb. The name is of clear Lebanese Maronite origin. One may well suppose that in this deep valley every year the Lebanese faithful went in a procession of the Holy Cross, with prayers and novenas in acts of pilgrimage at a time when Fatemite or Ottoman terror held sway and when hatred and fanaticism were the masters.

It is also said that the name refers to a cross engraved on a rock as the boundary mark of a great landlord of the Sfeir family. Another explanation is that here met the three rivers of Asal Spring, Laban Spring and Msan Spring, so forming a cross like that of a crossroads. The reader may believe what he likes.

In Phoenician and Roman times the Wadi was a pass quite difficult to climb, running from the seashore at the mouth of Nahr al-Kalb, Dog River, along the river bank and up to the temples of Fakra, to finally reach Baalbek-Heliopolis in the Beqaa valley. It was known as the Anthonine Road. A similar way ran up from Byblos to the temple of Astarte and Adonis, through Yenouh and Afka, on to the temple of Atargatis at Heliopolis.

The scholars and investigators of Kfarzebian consider this Wadi es-Saleeb as the heritage of their village and continue their researches. They suppose that a spacious stopping-place once existed that would have allowed the caravans of carriages drawn by horses, donkeys or mules to get some rest during the hard climb. In view of the abundance in the valley of woodland and fig trees, olive trees, other fruit trees and vines, and above all of mulberry trees, there was no place better than the Wadi for raising silkworms and pasturing flocks and herds pf goats and cattle. Over forty houses were built in one place and the soil brought under cultivation, so Wadi es-Saleeb became an active center for work and exchange, for the production of silk and the raising of worms demand labor and skill. Production reached over 5,000 oka of silk; as an oka is the equivalent of 600 grams this meant no less than three long tons of silk exported yearly through the coastal ports to Marseille and Lyon in France.

The valley may be reached through Mayrouba and Kfarzebian in the southeastern part of the caza of Kesrouan. The valley slopes down to the cavern of Jeita, famous for its size and unique beauty, where the torrents of the valley run into the Nahr al-Kalb river. Right at the bottom of this valley five or six hundred years ago there used to be a hamlet of some forty houses. There is no lack of water as there are many springs and these provide power for four mills with three grindstones each. These were a source of prosperity for the village so there was coming and going between this village and ones in the surroundings and a minor commerce flourished.

Maronite Christians practiced their religion and three churches were built dedicated to Saint Joseph, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, together with a miraculous chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. Concerning this chapel it is said that in 1887 heavy rain and floods caused a great deal of damage; there were avalanches and a ten-foot rock fell on the roof of the chapel, which nevertheless stood up to the shock. When the storm subsided, the local inhabitants wished to find out what damage had been wrought; when they arrived in front of the chapel and stood there moved to wonder, one of them cried, “It’s Our Lady of the Rosary who saved it!” He rushed inside and brought out the painting of the Virgin Mother, but he had hardly arrived in front of the door when the chapel was crushed under the weight of the rock. The good people sent up prayers to their holy patron and then went off in procession to the monastery of Roumieh at Kléat, praying to Jesus and his Mother on the way. In 2015 the painting of Our Lady of the Rosary was returned to its original home after the restoration of the chapel.

Here in this valley one is sheltered and protected, for the valley is militarily impregnable and no army has ever dared to enter. The place is one of great beauty and the atmosphere one of love, peace, serenity and brotherhood. One may well demand how the local inhabitants managed to scrape a living and exist in so isolated an area. But the answer is simple: these brave Maronites were courageous hard workers. They cleared the land, dug it and planted it and had abundant harvests. They were a group of about one hundred and had good relations with the surrounding villages and also intermarried with them.

They carried on barter and were mutually helpful, living a Christian life so that the Cross protected them.
To speak at length of the streams of water, their springs, the trees and the monumental rocks sculptured by their Creator, the clearings and all else to be seen along the way, would take much time. Better far to park one’s car on the road and to walk in the valley to reach the site we are talking about and to live the experience.

In 1615, following the massacre of Christians in the Qaa region of the Beqaa Valley, the people there sought refuge from the Christians of Kfarzebian. They were offered the valley of Wadi es-Saleeb, which they accepted. They took the name of Qaa’iy from their place of origin. Now there is a renewal thanks to the European Union, which has offered a budget for restoration; four houses have been re-done up as well as the church of Our Lady of the Rosary. The work will take a long time and demand much effort and sacrifice.

The valley slopes down from nearly four thousand feet to two thousand where it joins the Nahr al-Kalb river. In the little village silence reigns supreme and majestic. One hears the divine voice of the Creator. The rays of the sun plunge into the depths, allowing for a moderate and pleasant climate with delightful fresh air. After a storm in 1898 a bridge was built by the engineer Antoine Kikano in the time of Mutassaref Wasseh Pasha to make the route safe and allow evacuation of flood water. It was opened in 1901.

After the wave of emigration to the Americas, World War One and the Ottoman terror, life became very difficult in al-Wadi, which was emptied of its inhabitants. The last to go, leaving behind him a tradition of several centuries of life, customs, tradition and memories, was a certain Israel Abu Rashed. However, the Abu Rashed family still exists in Faytroun and the surrounding villages. The people of Kfarzebian, the largest region of Kessrouan, are the ones now concerned with the affairs of the Valley.

My great hope is that our two most illustrious valleys, that of the Cross and that of the Saints in Kadeesha, will find new life and rise up from the ashes.

Joseph Matar - William Matar
Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

- Wadi el Salib - Valley 1: >> View Movie << (2014-11-15)
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- Wadi el Salib - Valley 3: >> View Movie << (2014-11-15)


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