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The Bride of the Beqaa
A red-roofed town set among the eastern foothills of Mount Sannine, Zahlé enjoys a prime location in the Beqaa valley. Snowcapped mountains tower above it in winter, while in summer its 945-meter elevation keeps the air light and dry.
    The city center spreads along both banks of the Bardouni River, with the older section of town on the upper elevations of the west bank and the shopping district on the east bank.
At the northern end of town is the Bardouni river valley known as Wadi el-Aarayesh (Grape Vine Valley) – the site of Zahlé's famous outdoor restaurants. Zahlé styles itself "The City of Wine and Poetry", and with good reason. In this century alone some 50 poets and writers were born here
and  almost as many excellent wines and araks have been produced in the area.
    The romance of wine and poetry is balanced by Zahlé's more businesslike position as the administrative and commercial capital of the Beqaa valley (42.27% of Lebanon's territory) as well as its rank as the country's third largest city (population 150,000).
Zahlé is also an agricultural town which produces vegetables, fruit, grains and most importantly, grapes.

Tucked away from Lebanon's busy coastal centers, the people of Zahlé have developed their own brand of individualism and way of doing things. Even their spoken Arabic has a particular flair. The city's reputation for intellectual vigor comes from a long line of writers, thinkers and poets who have contributed to Lebanon's cultural and political scene.

Zahlé in History
Zahlé was founded about 300 years ago in an area whose past reaches back some five millennia. In the early 18th century the new town was divided into three separate quarters, each of which had its own governor.
    The city enjoyed a brief period as the region's first independent state in the 19th century when it had its own flag and anthem.
    Zahlé was burned in 1777 and 1791, and it was burned and plundered in 1860.
But during the rule of the Mutasarrifiah, Zahlé began to regain its prosperity. The railroad line which came through in 1885 improved commerce and the town became the internal "port" of the Beqaa and Syria. It was also the center of agriculture and trade between Beirut and Damascus, Mosul and Baghdad. Considered the birthplace of the Lebanese army, Zahlé has played a major role in the political life of the country.

Zahlé's Bardouni Restaurants
    The Bardouni is a river that flows out of Mount Sannine and down through Zahlé. It is also a name synonymous with Lebanon's famous mezze and the delights of outdoor dining.
    The Bardouni restaurant tradition began over a hundred years ago with a few simple riverside cafes. Today it is a virtual bazaar of tree-shaded eating places known as "casinos," every one more inviting than the next. Not surprisingly, competition is fierce, so each establishment outdoes itself with fountains, pools, and cooling shade to tempt potential customers.
    Here you can enjoy the traditional Lebanese

A Bardouni restaurant
mezze as it is served nowhere else. To add to the sense of timelessness, delicious mountain bread is baked before your eyes and a man in baggy trousers and fez is on hand to pour Lebanese coffee. He can also provide diners with a hubble-bubble (water pipe). On the cliffs above the Bardouni are the restaurants of Kaa el Reem, also known for their excellent food and atmosphere.

Ksara Winery
Wine and Arak
    Zahlé's association with the grape is pervasive, for it lies at the heart of an area that has been making wine since early antiquity. At the city's southern entrance the statue of a graceful female personifies wine and poetry, but you don't have to look far to see evidence of the real thing. The hills north of town with names like Wadi Hadi, Harqat, Bir Ghazour and Tell Zeina are covered with the neat rows of vineyards that supply Zahle's wine and arak industries.
Many of the wines have been formally recognized abroad for their fine quality–equal to some of the
best in Europe. A tour of Zahlé's Ksara winery is a good way to see how wine and arak are made. Of special interest here are the extensive underground caves built around a natural grotto known and enlarged by the Romans.

The Monastery of Our Lady of Najat 
Local Celebrations
    Each year between the 10th and 20th of September Zahlé mounts its week-long " Festival of the Vine", a celebration shared with the city's " Flower Festival".
In a carnival-like atmosphere "Miss Vine" is elected and cars are decorated with flowers representing national symbols.
    Zahlé is also famous for its Corpus-Christi festival which dates back to 1825 when the town was spared the ravages of a contagious disease. Corpus-Christi is celebrated on the first Thursday of June with a torch-light parade held on the eve of the festival.
The next morning a mass takes place at Our Lady of Najat Church, followed by a procession of townspeople carrying the "Holy Bread" through the streets.
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 W H A T   T O   S E E   I N   Z A H L E                                                                    
The Geha House
A good example of Zahlé's local architecture is the restored Geha House in the old part of town. Although this is a private home, one can easily appreciate its courtyard, garden and arched upper galleries – all typical of 17th century architecture.
An old underground tunnel 1,400 meters long leads from the house to the church of St. Elias (Al-Tuwak). Built by Sheikh Khalil Geha in the early 17th century, today the seventh generation of the Geha family resides in this 24-room dwelling.
    Other private residences in the same area are the lovely al-Hindi, Youssef Azar and Wadih Skaf houses. These are several hundred years old and also designed with arcades and walled gardens.

The Geha Residence

Old Serail (The municipality)
The Serail
    The restored Serail or government house in the old part of town dates from 1885. This beautiful building, whose architecture reflects the European and Arab influences of the Ottoman period, will soon house the offices of the municipality and a museum illustrating Zahlé's history.
At the start of the 20th century Zahle began building hotels to serve its budding tourist and summer resort trade. Although the "Sohat" (health) Hotel built in 1878 has been demolished, three establishments from this era can still be seen: the Hotel America, the Hotel Akl and the Hotel Kadri (undergoing restoration).
    The Kadri, built in 1906, has seen its share of history. The hotel was taken over by the Turkish
army in 1914 and used as headquarters and a hospital during World War I.
It was from the Kadri as well that in 1920 the French Mandate authorities announced annexation

Hotel America in Zahlé
of the judiciary areas which would give "Greater Lebanon" its present-day borders.

The Souk al-Blatt,
or "tiled market" is a market street leading to one of the oldest parts of the city. A large part of Zahle's history was written in this souk, where in former times travelers to and from Syria, Baghdad and Palestine bought and sold their goods. A project is planned to restore the street and make it a center for crafts and other traditional activities.

Housh El-Zarani
Housh El-Zarani is located near the post office on the east side of the river. In past centuries this housh, or market area, was a conglomerate of khans (caravansaries), craft center and shops. Here shoemakers, woodworkers weavers, copper workers and saddle makers plied their trades. It was also an important commercial center where vendors sold agricultural and industrial products.
    Many of the old buildings, embellished by carved ceilings, vaulted interiors and decorated façades, still stand. Today these structures are somewhat obscured by modern shopfronts, but projects are afoot to restore the area. In the meantime you can still discover a taste of old Zahlé here.

Sayedit Zalzaly
Sayedit Zalzaly is Zahlé's oldest church. Built in 1700, it originally stood at the center of the city.

The Church of St. Elias
The Church of St. Elias is the second church built in Zahlé (1720). This impressive structure is also known as Al-Moukhallasiah.

The Monastery of Our Lady of Najat
The Monastery (1720) has the largest bell tower in Lebanon. The monastery is known as well for a beautiful icon of the Virgin Mary, a gift from the King of Prussia.

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Monastery of Saint Elias at-Tuwak
The Monastery of Saint Elias at-Tuwak,
which dates to 1755, was renovated in 1880 after a fire. Today it remains one of Zahlés most venerable monuments.

Tell Shiha Hospital
The landmark Tell Shiha Hospital, with its red tile roof, was opened in 1948. Located on a high hill of the same name, this site is a good spot for photographs.

Our Lady of Zahle and the Beqaa
    For the most spectacular view, go to the 54-meter-high hill-top tower of Our Lady of Zahle and the Beqaa located east of town. here an elevator takes you up to a viewing platform overlooking the city and the extending plain.
The structure is crowned with a ten-meter-high bronze statue of the Virgin, the work of the Italian artist, Pierroti. The base houses a small chapel seating about 100 people.

Our Lady of Zahle
and the Beqaa

The Zahlé area has some scattered ancient remains indicating a history going back at least to the Bronze Age (1200 - 3000 B.C.). You can see cave tombs in the cliffs of the Wadi el-Aarayesh, while Byzantine, Roman and Canaanite sarcophagi and ancient pottery sherds have been found in the hills around the city.

    All amenities are available in Zahlé, which has plenty of good shopping and souvenir shops. There are 12 working hotels, numerous restaurants and cafés, plus recreational centers, night clubs and cinemas. Sixteen banks do business in this commercial center in addition to insurance and currency exchange companies.
    Zahlé's Tourism Office, a part of the Ministry of Tourism, has offices on the third floor of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture building.
    Fifty-four kilometers separate Beirut from Zahlé going via Sofar and Chtaura.
A slightly longer route is by way of Dhour ech-Choueir in Mount Lebanon. Both roads bring you to the south end of the town.

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Karak (Noah's Tomb)
One kilometer beyond Zahle is the 'tomb of Noah" found in the village mosque. Although Noah's tomb is 42 meters long and 2.5 meters wide, tradition says that he still had to be buried with his knees bent. There is an ancient Arabic inscriptions on the walls of the mosque, which was apparently constructed of reused Roman stones.

    In nearby Furzol you can see the scant remains of a Roman temple just off the central roundabout. Beyond the upper end of the town is the Wadi el-Habis
(Valley of the Hermit) with tombs and rock-cut sanctuaries from Roman and Byzantine times. A fascinating place to explore, hickers can also venture up the rocks above the site. At the base of the caves is a café with paved terraces.

Located in Niha village, this restored temple of the Syro-Phoenician god Hadaranes is imposing in its size and beauty. A much smaller temple nearby, perhaps dedicated to a divinity related to water, has not been restored.
    Upper temples: From Niha a steep rural roadway, usually traveled by foot, takes you up 300 meters to Husn Niha, or the "fortress of Niha". Here you will find two partially preserved Roman temples.

This estate, now a farm, is located on the main road just south of Chtaura and is identified by a large sign. A visit to Tannayal, owned by the Jesuit fathers since 1860, is a good introduction to agriculture in the Beqaa valley. In addition to the usual farm animals you can see a large collection of exotic fowl including peacock and doves.
    A teaching facility for the Faculty of Agriculture at Saint Joseph University, Tannayel also has vineyards and fruit orchards. An artificial lake adds to the beauty of the site. Locally produced dairy products are for sale here too.

Kfar Zabad and Ain Kfar Zabad
A steep footpath from this village leads to the remains of two Roman temples located on a high hill. Northeast of the lower temple is a rock-cut relief of Venus locally known as "Bint el Malik" or the king's daughter.
    For those interested in spelunking, a beautiful little cave, explored to 125 meters, can be entered with the use of ropes. Drive about a kilometer along a dirt road from Kfar Zabad towards the Anti-Lebanon mountains. A mountain footpath (15 minutes) brings you to the entrance.

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