The name Bearzeleh is derived from the Syriac Beit
Arzel, meaning the textile centre or the place of
the unravelling of the silk cocoons. The villages
engaged in textile production have always been known
to be progressive, rich and prosperous.
Bearzeleh is in the caza of Akkar in North Lebanon,
10km from Halba, the district’s main centre,
and 25km from Tripoli, capital of the northern governerate
or muhafazah, and it stands at an altitude of 250
Its townspeople number 20,000, but most of them have
emigrated abroad. Since the beginning of the 20th
century they have become scattered over Argentina,
Brazil, the United States, Australia, Canada, Africa
and the Arab countries.
In certain caves around Bearzeleh there have recently
been discovered pieces of ancient pottery which are
evidence that Bearzeleh existed in Phoenician times
and even earlier.
Bearzeleh was converted to Christianity through the
influence of the neighbouring village of Arca, where
Saint Paul passed when he travelled between Jerusalem
and Antioch. Bearzeleh also had an Islamic presence
during a certain period of its history, presumably
of the Shi’ite division.
There is a forest of oak trees at Bearzeleh which
are outstanding for their beauty and many centuries
old, this being the biblical forest of Saint Moura.
Here one is in another world such as one sees nowhere
else, a still virgin corner of our planet, which reminds
one of the first mornings of creation, with a unique
age-old forest of fine oaks planted by the very hand
that moulded the clay and breathed into it life, the
same which formed in this living matter trees each
of which imposes its presence individually.
They speak of ancient times, these oak trees of Bearzeleh,
like the prophets of the Bible, as enduring as time,
as eternal as light itself. Here there is Moses who
receives us, looking up to God, and farther on there
is Isaiah in prayer and Ezekiel lost in meditation.
There is Daniel like a lamb, with the ravening lions
round his feet, Elijah of the legends, tall and gaunt,
and Jeremiah lamenting, to mention only a few.
This is the forest of the prophets, where the air
is all prayer and holiness, taking our breath away.
Time stands still and so does existence, for here
is a permanent resurrection, and horizons of dreamlike
beauty. Those who enter come under a magic enchantment
and can no longer leave the Elysian spell or wish
to return to a sordid world. Here are subjects for
the brushes of Watteau to paint or for the mighty
hand of Michelangelo to hew, night and the dawn, heroes,
slaves and men reborn.
This is a celestial heritage, a privileged nature,
a gift of God for God's own land. The ravishing view
exalts us and emotion overpowers us. The dark shadows
invite us to enjoy the shade embalmed by aromatic
plants and flowers of every description.
As for Bearzeleh itself, it is the one village still
engaged in the artisan craft of pottery-making, producing
work for practical purposes rather than ornament.
It is still the elderly women who ply their skill,
producing such items as cooking utensils in glazed
earthenware, sometimes as much as two centimetres
thick and without enamel. Once the saucepan has been
heated its contents will continue to simmer and remain
hot for a long wait.
Again it is the sturdy women who dry the figs and
the grapes, harvest the carob trees for the making
of treacle, and prepare all the winter provisions.
The olives are pressed to leave in the jars a fine
quality oil. The grapes are crushed and the juice
fermented for wine and additionally distilled for
arak, the typical spirit of Lebanon.
One sees also small herds of bullocks and cows and
little herds of sheep or goats tended by a young village
boy or by some busy-fingered woman with clicking knitting-needles.
Myself, I was intoxicated by this world of trees,
by the purity of the surroundings, by the virginal
shades. Here one forgot temptation in a haunting dream
of the East in a celestial sphere. I left Bearzeleh
with tears trembling in my eyes.