THE ORIGIN & MEANING OF BECHARRE GEOGRAPHY & HISTORY
For years now, the capital of Lebanon has been enjoying tremendous progress and has developed so many foreign contacts, and been modernised so that any foreigner, what ever his nationality, has no difficulty in feeling quite at home in its midst. Its buildings, its places of entertainment, its way of life and its outlook have tended more and more to resemble those of the West. Naturally, all this progress carries a distinctly Lebanese stamp but, it is, all the same, rather difficult to limit to Beirut one’s true view of Lebanese culture and of Lebanon, land of the Cedars, of milk and honey.
For this vision, one must turn one’s eyes to the sources, to live in the countryside, to Mount Lebanon. And there, one must speak of Becharre, the village that reveals the authentic image of Lebanon in all its folkloric singularity and richness.
Situated in the very heart of the mountain regions and crowned with the impressive cedars that have constituted the fame and the glory of Lebanon for thousands of years, Becharre and its cluster neighbouring villages are so important that they form a separate administrative distinct. The origin of the name Becharre seems to go far back as the Phoenicians (beit sharri, meaning, the house of Ashtarout, mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible (1Kings: 11 & 2 Kings: 3). The Phoenicians had settled in the region and set to trading in the Cedar woods and thus had developed an agricultural society which has left many remains behind. Later on, with the advent of Christianity and its spread to these parts, numerous monks had chosen this calm and quiet area as a place of retreat. And, in spite of frequent persecutions by pagan authorities, their teachings found a ready ear in the population. A strange story has attached itself to this fact of conversion. It is said that the source which supplied the water had dried up, with disastrous consequences for the agriculture of the region. In the meantime, Christian followers of Saint Maroun reached Becharre and advised the inhabitants to go forth and consult Saint Simon for their plight. A delegation was sent consequently to Saint Simon who told them to give up their false beliefs and adhere to Christianity.Then, turning to the Christians, he asked them to fast for eight days. Then the Saint gave the Christians seven pebbles which they were to throw in the dry source on the eight day. This they did and the water began to flow again. The pagans were thus converted and the source came to be known by the name of Saint Simon. Later a Church, dedicated to the Saint, was built in the neighbourhood and still survives today,
This story stresses the important role played by the Becharre in the spreading of Christianity (of the Maronite Rite) in the area where, following its example, many other cities were also converted until the greater part of Northern Lebanon became Christian. Among the outstanding personalities of Becharre, we can mention Safarnios who became the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 634, successfully defending the city against all foreign attackers. Later, during the Crusades, when King Louis IX cane to the East in 1250, the inhabitants of Becharre, lead by Al Chidiac Gergis, went forth to greet him with many presents and then served under his command with great distinction. Following the collapse of the Crusades, many of the soldiers settled in Becharre and built convents, the most celebrated of which is the convent of Saint Sarkis.
Thus, side by side with the Phoenician civilisation, there grew up another civilisation, that of the Crusaders. These latter brought in such innovations as churches with copper bells, which replaced the ancient bells made of wood.
The Crusaders made their contribution in the field of civil administration, too. This is seen in the fact that the city elders very soon adopted the Western methods of city administration. These elders were known by the title of Nakib. The most prominent among them being Al Shidiac Gergis and Al Nakib Salem. Toward the year 1400, as a result of religious rivalries and conflicts between Christians and Moslems, the Maronites withdrew to the north of Lebanon, beyond the river Nahr Ibrahim. The region was divided into districts, each of which was administrated by an administrator called Mokaddam. History informs us that the President of the Council of Mokaddams was always the Mokaddam of Becharre which was the most distinguished district amongst all.
The post of Mokaddam was hereditary and Becharre was fortunate to have a succession of great personalities to this position who were able to maintain order, security and prosperity in the region. Among the most famous is Mokhaddam Rizallah the Great who was brought up and educated in the spirit of justice, love, brotherhood and patriotism by Father Hanna, the Director of the Convent of Mar Takla (St.Takla). He was called the Emir of the Cedars. His fame was so great that it reached the Pope himself who despatched an apostolic delegate to work with him in the fight to stop the spread of the doctrine of the Jacobinist movement in the Mount Lebanon Area. At his death, his successor Abdel Monem adopted, however, a favourable attitude towards the Jacobinist theories and allowed followers of this doctrine to settle in the region. Later on, Mokhaddam Elias took up again the fight against the Jacobinists and, with such vigour that his as renown reached as far as the plain of Bekaa. More recently, during Fakhreddin II, Becharre became famous for its silk industry and made so much progress in that field that it became known even as far away as Europe. And since then, Becharre has continued on the road of progress and prosperity, developing in all directions. It is worth noting in passing, that the Syriac language was still in use in the region as late 1797 and actually the inhabitants of the area around Becharre have retained a typical accent in their speech that has come down from the Syriac.
At the present time, if we consider that the civilisation of Lebanon bears a distinctive mark and is an amalgam of many other civilisations, in particular those of the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Crusaders, then Becharre becomes the representative example of our country that is so unusual in so many respects. Today, Becharre is the administrative centre of a whole district, and this fact gives it considerable importance. Then, alongside the remains of the ancient civilisations which we find there and of which we spoke already, we find a new Becharre, that is the centre of a cultural life of its own since one of the greatest writers of the century, Gibran Kahlil Gibran is a native of the city and is buried there. There is a museum in the village devoted entirely to him. Also a great number of clubs and cultural associations are very active there in promoting an intense intellectual life in the area.
One can never write enough about Becharre and no article can exhaust all the varied interest of this village. One should pay it a visit by all means.
BECHARRE FAMILIES A STORY FROM LEBANON
By Sheikh Said Taouk.
All evidence indicates that Becharre has been inhabited for a long time. Its people have chosen Christianity as their religion in the place of paganism. One can state that a familial society based on an ordered social structure did not exist in Becharre until three centuries after the settlement of immigrating families there. This immigration continued until the seventeenth century resulting in the occupation of the village by ten main families. These families were divided into two parts.
The first part consisted of families that emigrated to Becharre in large masses, and were then followed by a number of families because of marriage and alliance between different families.
The second part consisted of families established by the citizens of Becharre. Those families carried the surname of the grandfather whose sons, grandsons and relatives have multiplied noticeably. Other small families have then joined in, causing an exponential increase in their number.
We will be depending on the chronological order so as to describe the immigration and origin of every family to Becharre:
Kairuz Family: Its members originated from Ain Halya, a city in Syria. They immigrated to Becharre in vast numbers during the year 1438.
Geagea Family: This family was established by the nephew of the Patriarch Youhanna Aljaji who came with his uncle from Jaj in the year 1455.
Rahme Family: The first grandfather originated from Akkar, and the family was founded in Becharre during the year 1623. The family acquired the surname of the mother, “Rahme”, who had three sons whose names were: Aoun, Akiki and Rahme. The latter was known as Father Francis after he joined the church. He later married but remained known as “the son of Rahme”.
Succar Family: Opinions and information clash concerning the origin of this family, but it seems that it originated from the village of “Succara”, found between Homs and Hamah in Syria. Its members inhabited Aldanniya and Akkar at first, but then moved on to Becharre during the end of the eighteenth century. However, it is noted that some arrived in Becharre during the seventeenth century.
Taouk Family: This family originated from the mountains of Toukan in Turkey, They emigrated from Turkey in large masses during 1630. In the beginning, they lived in the village of Rahba in Akkar and stayed there for seven years, but later moved to Kabait for five years. After that the members progressed to Becharre for good.
Fakhry Family: This family originated from Bilad Ma Bain Alnahrain (Iraq), in Alfagheri.. Its members immigrated to Asnoun, one of the villages in the region of coastal Becharre. With the dawn of the sixteenth century, the family moved to the village of Becharre but then they moved to Andq’it from the year 1750 to 1759. Part of the family later returned to the village of Becharre while the rest stayed in Andq’it.
Chidiac Family: Historians state that this family originated from the village of Ban in the region of Becharre. Others mention that it extended from the original family of Jemaa Abi Keyrouz. It became known in Becharre during the last quarter of the sixteenth century.
Arida Family: This family originated from the village of Akoura. Its members first immigrated to Arida, then to Tripoli, and finally to Becharre. They got their surname from the first village they inhabited, Arida. They arrived in Becharre during the sixteenth century.
Gibran Family: This family originated from Al Sham in Syria. They immigrated to the village of Bchaaley in the higher regions of Batroun. In 1672 three brothers immigrated from Bchaaley to Becharre and lived there.
Shbeyaa Family: It is one of the oldest families in Becharre. Its origins have been debatable, for some say that it originated from Zabr Safraa while others state that they originated from the Bustani Family, which immigrated from Bkarkat.
This information summarizes the history of families that still constitute Becharre and its society.
The Village In The Heart Of Lebanon
The distance to Becharre is 130 kms. from Beirut. It is approximately 1850 metres high in altitude. You have to take the autostrada to Shekka, south of Tripoli, and then turn up towards Amioun. From there the road passes along the side of the Kadisha Gorge through Kousba, Tourza, Hadet, Hasroun, Bazaoun and Becharre. The journey from Beirut takes two-and-a-half hours.
Al-Arz (The Cedars), named after the ancient unique trees which form a forest in the heart of the village. Hundreds of young Cedar trees have been planted around the area during the last 30 years but, since they only grow at a rate of one centimetre every year, it will be many generations before these saplings reach the impressive size of those in the forest. In addition to the Cedar forest, there are a number of sites of interest in the area. The town of Becharre is best known as the birthplace and resting place of Gibran Khalil Gibran, Lebanon’s most famous mystic poet, artist and novelist. The Gibran Museum, a converted monastery, houses his paintings, drawings, and personal effects, as well as his casket. The town also has three churches and a waterfall.
The resort of the Cedars had its first ski lift installed by the government in 1953. The high altitude of Al-Arz means it generally has a slightly longer season than the other resorts, sometimes beginning as early as November, and often lasting until mid or late April. The number of skiers on the slopes at weekends often reaches between two and three thousand. A number of national and international competitions are being planned every season.
Since it is a fair distance from Beirut, the resort is well provided with excellent hotels; there are also about 300 chalets available for rental. The main pistes are equipped with four lifts, one of which is lit at night. There are great opportunities for cross-skiing, and snowboarding. There are also ski schools as well as crèche facilities where activities are arranged at the Kid’s Club for children aged between five and twelve years.