The Lebanese city of Jounieh is best known for Casino du Liban, Our Lady of Lebanon shrine and the téléphérique. Yet, this city along the Mediterranean has another trick up its sleeves. It is the closest major city to the Jeita Grotto, a spectacular cave system that runs for about nine kilometers long.
Located about 5 km from Jounieh and 9 km from the capital city of Beirut, Jeita Grotto is popular among experts, geologists, speleologists, and tourists for several reasons. First and foremost, it is famous for its strikingly beautiful rock formations and natural galleries. The lower galleries reveal a magnificent underground world of columns and natural sculptures that had been shaped and reshaped for millions of years. The entire cave system dates back to the Paleolithic era. Unfortunately, water level is high in winter and the lower galleries are closed to visitors.
Also found deep underground is a gushing river called Hell’s Rapids. The waters flow over razor-sharp rocks and, therefore, almost impossible to cross.
The upper galleries are open to visitors whole year round. Tourists enter this dry cavern through a rock tunnel that is 120 meters long. Inside are some of the most spectacular stalactite and stalagmite draperies in the world. There is a series of huge chambers, the largest of which is about 120 meters high. The largest known stalactite is found here in the upper galleries, which are much older than the lower galleries. Two other awe-inspiring attractions are the yawning canyons and sink holes that could be as deep as several hundred meters.
Second, Jeita Grotto is an important cavern since from it springs the historic Nahr al-Kalb, also known as Dog River. This 31-km long river speaks volumes on the history of Lebanon, the Mediterranean and Europe. Recorded on rocky monuments above the river are carved inscriptions of ancient leaders who passed by its banks. Among these historical personalities were the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and Napoleon III.
Dog River is a piece of important history and so is the Jeita Grotto. It was discovered by William Thomson, an American missionary in 1836. It was first explored in 1873 by the Beirut Water Company and the president of the Syrian Protestant College, and then again in 1874 by the same team. One of the columns was named Maxwell’s Column after one of the water company’s engineers who comprised the team. The next explorers arrived later in 1892 and then much later in 1940. The lower and upper galleries were discovered in the 40s by the Speleo-Club of Lebanon.
Finally, the Jeita Grotto is a must-see because it is considered as the country’s top tourist destination and one of its national symbols. It also serves an important cultural and social function since it placed Lebanon in the map when it was named as a finalist in the search for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It did not make the final 7, but landing the 11th spot means it bested more than 30 other finalists from all over the world.