This is a little village on a narrow promontory in the shape of a nose – hence its name – some 500 meters long and 50 wide. It lies 70 kilometers from Beirut to the north of Shekka el-Hereh and 15 short of Tripoli, just five kilometers from the monastery of Balamand, the Bel Mont or Beautiful Mountain of the Crusaders. Close by, the high road follows the coastal way.
This village, so typical and characteristic and yet so special, is carved out of the rock and is the only one all along the Lebanese coastline to be distinguished by such a cape given by Nature.
Reservoirs, canalizations, presses, stairways, depots, urns, trenches and much else, all are hewn out of the living rock, and to these one should add the salt-pans also cut out of the rock.
Infeh, as a cell or a hive sculptured out of the ground, is surrounded by walls and fortifications of enormous stones hauled from the nearby quarries. The Phoenicians used the place as a shipyard for the construction of their vessels. Several waves of conquerors have passed over Infeh, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamlouks, Ottomans and the like, each leaving their traces after profiting from the strategic situation of the place on the one coastal road.
Infeh was the stronghold of a fief vassal of the Count of Tripoli during the time of the crusades, and the Franks dug a ditch there one hundred meters long by thirty, crossing the rock at sea level between the shore and the promontory. A few walls of the Crusader castle are still visible. At the present day, Infeh is a Christian village scattered about with monasteries and churches, in particular:
Our Lady el-Rih, Our Lady of the Winds.
St. Simon’s and St. Michael’s(Byzantine).
Our Lady el-Natour, Our Lady of the Watchman, and St. Catherine’s date from the crusades.
Our Lady of the Winds was the first church in all the East to be dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary.
There are also some historic ancient dwellings in Infeh, long famous for its salt pans. These are no ordinary salt pans but ones which are both historical and typical, hewn out of the rock and fed by wind pumps that raise and distribute the salt sea-water, their whirling vanes breaking the horizon as they stand above the shoreline and the lapping waves. Their names are typical: Ras el-Natour, the Cape (headland) of the Watchman; Taht el-Rih, Under the Wind; Ras el-Kala’a, the Cape of the Citadel; the inlet Nuheyrah, The Riverlet – Nuheyrah is the diminutive of nahr, river.
On an entirely rocky piece of shoreline, a maritime public garden encloses a fishing and pleasure harbor. Several projects are under study for Infeh and the monastery Deir el-Natour. One is for a model pilot village with a cultural and tourist center, and a marine park for the preservation of certain submarine species of plants and animals. Also under consideration is the ecological exploitation of the environment, in view of the oil slicks and pollution caused by coastal factories and passing ships. >From time to time a festival is organized. There are exhibitions, cultural activities, crafts shows and sporting events. Recently there was a “Sea Salt Exhibition”, where one could see the “flower of the salt” – “gemme salt”, “big crystal”, “fine salt”, salt crystals, untreated salt to be refined and purified, and so on. The various stages of production were shown, from the evaporation of the water to consumption. Is it not said in the Gospels, “You are the salt of the earth and if the salt loses its savor with what shall it be salted?” (Matthew 5: 11)
On the southern side, not far from Infeh, there is another reminder of the crusades overlooking the coast, Deir el-Natour, the Monastery of the Watchman, attached to Balamand, monastery of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate. Deir el-Natour has an attractive interior cloister and the church has recently been decorated with paintings and frescoes executed in Byzantine style by artists from Odessa.
The building stands on a promontory facing Infeh and is surrounded by a forest of bilberry, behind which are stretches of olive and oak trees. Taht el-Rih, “Under the Wind”, is a rock-strewn beach marking this historic region where local fishermen and sailors can meet. One sees ancient habitations several times restored. There is an inscription on the pediment of the door of the first church, named after the Virgin Mary Our Lady of the Wind, which says, “Save us, O Our Lady of the Wind.” Are these pathetic words on behalf of sailors in distress beyond the distant horizon? The church is in a pitiful state, with crumbling walls and icons barely visible.
The submarine archeologist-explorer Zareh Amadouny has found on the sea bottom around Infeh a large number of stone anchors and amphora that once contained wine, oil or grain, as well as the remains of ships that were wrecked during the violent storms. A visit to this district leaves us with enduring emotions and indescribable nostalgia.