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Panoramic Views > North > El Koura > Enfeh

Inside Lebanon: Enfeh - Its Authentic Side

There's a particular feel here in Enfeh. The setting of this small Mediterranean town in North Lebanon is made of simple elements. Old and modern houses coexist side by side, olive orchids and salt marshes stretch as far as the eye can see… all wrapped by a clear azure sky. Yet the beauty of the town has hidden for centuries around the creek and the peninsula.

We had to drive almost 65km from Beirut to reach Enfeh. We headed straight to the creek that is almost overlooked by the town's small cemetery. Elsie, the photographer, and I walked around it, guided by the moist scent of the sea. Immediately, we found ourselves in narrow alleys and on stairs of houses painted in blue stripes. They all connected so it was easy for us to move around. There were also small terraces often covered with straw panels. We were at the creek. Ladders were built for swimmers to dip into the water.

It was 11 o' clock and few locals were gathered on the terraces having breakfast. They came to spend the day at sea. Actually those small houses are sort of chalets they said; built years ago replacing the salt marshes. The seawater was clear and bright, so we could admire how the Mediterranean had sculpted the creek, forming small caves. But there were also niches and basins which could have been used as wine presses during Roman Crusader times. Look for the boat ramps carved most probably by the Phoenicians.

The most impressive ancient rock work is the trench that was cut by the Crusaders. It offers a fabulous view of Shekka promontory. The site as well as the creek is perfect for taking pictures. The Lords of Tripoli had a castle on Enfeh peninsula. By cutting a moat, they separated it from the mainland. At its center, a spur was left to support the drawbridge. Today, nothing of that castle remained except for few embossed stones on the creek side. It was completely destroyed by the Mamlukes in 1289. It's believed that many of its rocks were transported to Tripoli to build their new city. When we were asking about the moat location, the local swimmers at the creek advised us not to enter the small scary chambers. Ghosts might be there!

Enfeh is a Greek Orthodox town, in terms of its churches. The Chapel of Our Lady of the Wind is located near the cemetery. It's a small Byzantine chapel famous for remnants of frescoes. Recent restoration works revealed in its underground what could probably be small basins. Saint Catherine Church is at a walking distance from the creek. It appears in simple Romanesque style overlooking the Mediterranean. We brought the key to enter the church. The iconostasis is a reminder that only its structure is Crusader, but the interior is of Greek Orthodox tradition. Just behind that church is another old chapel dedicated to Saint Simon and Saint Michael.

As we were leaving the site, two stone basins and an ancient house façade situated few meters away drew my attention. It was a furn (Arabic for bakery) located in what seemed to be an old restored stable. A stone ring to attach animals is still seen on the wall. The town has to be explored on foot to discover its old Ottoman period houses. The streets are quiet and people are very friendly.

The list of Enfeh's characteristics won't be complete without the salt marshes. Imagine lands of white rocks extending at sea level along the old road to Tripoli. They seem punched with salt marshes near the monastery of Our Lady Al-Natour (meaning watchman). So we went by car for that typical characteristic of Enfeh. The convent seems small, as it stands facing the sea. Ancient records reveal the extraction of salt in Enfeh. Seawater is carried and salt extraction occurs when water evaporates.

I took a deep breath, for the convent's beauty is simply divine. Encounters in such places often mark your life. As I was walking towards the convent gate, a woman's voice interrupted me. It came from the shade under a tree. I turned and saw a Greek Orthodox nun pulling out weeds. She's Sister Catherine who has run the monastery single-handedly for 38 years. As much as I was eager to know about her life, I was touched by her energy and happiness in serving God.

Sister Catherine guided me inside the Monastery. She told me with humility that the Monastery was built by the Crusaders in 1113 on the site of an ancient Byzantine convent. It has a small courtyard surrounded with quarters. The northern side that was destroyed in 1914 is under restoration. Then we entered the church. Built in one nave, the vault and walls were covered with 1997-1999 frescoes painted by Russian and French artists. They were made according to 12th century style. I couldn't miss the glass stained windows; they were made in France similar to 7th century models.

But the most moving visit was to the shrine of "Joy and Happiness". Inside is a treasure of ancient icons and pieces of a wooden iconostasis. On the lintel of the inside room, the visitor is advised to take off his shoes because the floor is sacred. Continuous prayers took place in that particular small chamber. Reluctantly, we left the Monastery with sweet emotions gripping our hearts. We just unexpectedly fell under Enfeh's charm.

- Anfeh or Enfeh: >> View Movie << (2005-04-01)



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