What are the cedars of Lebanon and why are they so popular? There are only two types of cedar and the one type (‘cedrus libani’) that grows in Lebanon is not found anywhere else in the world. In other words, Lebanon cedars are a rare kind, which makes them very important and highly valuable.
The cedars grow in abundance in a mountain forest area about 100 km from the city of Jounieh in northern Lebanon. The cedars are the pride and glory of the Lebanese mountains. Some grow to an unbelievable height of 30-40 meters. The tallest cedars are found in a remote grove in the village of Bsharri. The oldest and tallest cedars are called ‘Arz el Rab’ or Cedars of God.
Throughout the centuries, the mighty cedars flourished and were important in the establishment of various civilizations. The Phoenicians used them to build commercial and military ships, which helped these seafaring people engage in foreign trade and conquest. The Egyptians used cedar resins for mummification.
The Old Testament mentioned the cedars several times. Moses used the bark to treat leprosy and circumcise his people; the Jews burned cedar wood to celebrate the New Year; prophet Isaiah talked about pride and used the cedars as metaphor; King Solomon’s temple and palace and King David’s palace were said to have been built exclusively of cedars coming from Lebanon; and the trees were used extensively by the Babylonians, Romans, Persians, and Assyrians.
The mighty trees were also mentioned in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. The hero Gilgamesh ventured into the cedar groves in Lebanon, which the ancient novel described as the dwelling of the gods.
Beginning in 118 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered a decree to protect and conserve the groves. The Roman leader understood the importance of the cedars and the possible denudation of the mountains. In the Middle Ages, the Mameluk and Maronite leaders also pushed to regulate the use of cedar wood. In 1876, Queen Victoria constructed a wall around the Cedars of God in Bsharri to protect them from goat herding.
The cedar groves, particularly the one in Bsharri, are important tourist destinations in Lebanon. The mountains are quite far from Beirut but are much nearer to Jounieh. Several hotels and resorts have been constructed in the area so that tourists will have an easier time accessing the groves.
Jounieh is in itself a major resort-city in Lebanon. Its beaches, mountains, sceneries, restaurants, night clubs, and casino are among the best that the country has to offer. It is from Jounieh where tourists can visit the ancient port of Byblos, the historic Dog River, and the famed Jeitra Grotto, a majestic system of krastic limestone caves that are home to some of the largest stalactites in the world.
Another leading attraction in Jounieh is the statue of Our Lady of Lebanon. Nestled on top of Mount Harissa, Our Lady stands over the city, bay and hills with outstretched arms.
When in Jounieh, the Lebanon cedars and the cedar grove in Bsharri are a must-see attraction. They represent the pride of Lebanon that had stood the test of time but had been marred by more recent accounts of war and violence. The Lebanon cedar is the country’s national emblem.