The fresh flowers blooming in the spring sway with the grass to the rhythm of the wind. All of this happens so fast, so quickly, no one notices. Here in the valley, lost in their labors, people work this fertile land, alike so open and welcoming, they are. The many vineyards of this valley are like a necklace that adorns her. The sun sits above her at daytime as the stars open up at nighttime. The motionless hills that surround her are like hips altered with age.
The Beqaa valley is a fertile plain some 8 kilometers wide and 12 in length, between the almost sheer eastern slopes of Mount Lebanon and the series of barren terraces which make up the rectangular massif of the Anti-Lebanon. Despite the variety of its landscape, of its people and their religions, this is a homogenous world. Seen from the Baidar pass, this is an enchanting patchwork quilt of brown fallow fields and green cultivated rectangles, lying mysteriously beneath early morning mists or below the rose-tinted slopes of the Anti-Lebanon at sunset.
The elongated plateau of the Beqaa Valley is known for its warm and dry summers and cold and wet – even snowy – winters. Covered with olive groves, cultivated wheat fields and large numbers of vineyards, figs and pomegranate trees, the Beqaa Valley and its fertile soil is the country’s prime agricultural region.
It is perhaps the richest part of Lebanon, with its fields of barley and maize separated by sugar beet groves and market gardens, the whole dotted with apple, cherry, peach and pistachio nut trees.
Viticulture was introduced to the Beqaa valley 6,000 years ago by the Phoenicians, making Lebanon one of the oldest sites of wine production in the world. Partly because of this, Lebanon has a rich heritage of indigenous grapes. The combination of altitude, soil and water makes the village of Baruk, in the Beqaa valley, home to this food community, an excellent location for the local grape varieties, mirweih and mikseiss, both of which are much sought after for wine and arak production.
Lebanon’s fertile Bekaa Valley possesses a long and noble history that reaches as far back as the Roman Empire. Once the granary of Rome, the valley is Lebanon’s breadbasket. From the 1st century BC, when the region was under Roman rule, Beqaa Valley served as a source of grain for the Roman province of Syria. Today the valley makes up 40% of Lebanon’s arable land. Pastoral nomads use the northern end of the valley, with its scarce rainfall and less fertile soils, primarily as grazing land.
This fertile land irrigated in the north by the rebellious river, Al-Assi that springs miraculously from a barren, lunar landscape. This blue spring is an almost unique example in nature of a river suddenly appearing from the bowels of the earth. Not far from it, on the other side of the plain, several springs contribute to the Litany River, which waters the rich lands of the central and southern Beqaa.
This valley is the tip of the Great Rift Valley that stretches into Africa. The Phoenician inscriptions of 1400 BC have described the Beqaa as the Place for the Gods’. “This valley,” says Wood (in his “Journey to Palmyra”) “is more fertile than the celebrated vale of Damascus, and better watered than the rich plains of Esdraelou and Bama.”
People living there have lead lives largely determined by the seasons and the tasks connected with them. This valley of life, gently sloping, gently breathing, acknowledges all who have walked here from centuries past and all who are yet to tread upon her lush ground.
To my land of plenty…
One thought on “The Fertile Land”
Living in Southern California, I have always been fascinated by the Beqqa.Your sensitive description reads like a paean of love. Thank you .