The magnificent and storied Kadisha Valley, also known as Wadi Qadisha, lies within the Becharre and Zgharta Districts of the North Governorate of Lebanon. Carved into a deep gorge by the Kadisha River, it is one of Lebanon’s must-see natural wonders.
Surrounded today by picturesque villages and iconic, hilltop cathedrals, Kadisha Valley has sheltered Christian monastic communities for many centuries, and you’ll find caves and sanctuaries that were inhabited from the 3rd century B.C. until the Roman period. Hermitages, rocky monasteries and churches are scattered across the valley, many of which are easily accessible by foot along the breathtaking paths that line the steep embankments. Guided tours can be arranged on which you’ll get to taste the valley’s abundant natural nuts and berries, and the river itself is dotted with traditional restaurants that are very popular with locals.
UNESCO classified the valley as a World Heritage Site out of consideration for both its cultural and natural landmarks. The valley is home to thousands of varieties of plants and animals, some 10 percent of which are unique to Lebanon.
How to Reach Wadi Qadisha:
To reach Wadi Qadisha, leave Tripoli and head for Zgharta and continue in the same direction. You can also reach it by going from the Koura region and the town of Amioun. The entrance of this valley starts from Kousba. There is a cross-road: one takes you to Ehden (Wadi Qozhayah), and the other leads to the Cedars (Wadi Qannoubin).
Within Qadisha Valley:
Deir Mar Elishaa (Monastery of St. Elisha)
A visitor can reach this Monastery from Bsharreh by taking a narrow, uneven, winding road.
It is built inside a rocky cave that comprises a number of cells and the tomb of Father François de Chasteu, the Capuchin father who rested in saintly peace in 1644. The church was made up of four small rocky hermitages. There are no documents concerning the date of the monastery where a Maronite bishop lived in the 14th century. This monastery witnessed the foundation of the Lebanese Maronite Order (in 1695).
Deir Qannoubin (The Monastery of Qannoubin)
It is located midway between Bsharreh and Hadchit on a path leading to a rocky sanctuary venerated by nursing women in the district. Its jagged walls are covered with painted murals that go back to the 14th century. The best one preserved depicts the Baptism of Christ.
The shrine of Mar Shmouni lies at the meeting point of Wadi Hawla and Wadi Qannoubin. It can be reached on foot by a narrow, uneven path. It is a 30-minute walk to get there. It was built during the Middle Ages under a rocky sanctuary and it contains frescoes that date back to the 13th century. These frescoes were covered with line upon the demand of a donator. On the right side of the valley, there are the remains of Deir Es Salib (Monastery of the Cross): a double chapel and hermitages in the cliffside. The walls of the church were carved with frescoes in the Byzantine style that date back to the 12th and 14th centuries. A hermit left inscriptions in Arabic that serve as evidence of his residence in this place.
According to local tradition, the hermitage of Mar Semaan was founded by Takla, the daughter of a priest from Bsharreh called Basil. It contains four rooms built in natural caves in the cliffside. Here are remains of cisterns and traces of frescoes. This site overlooks the valley and stands as an exemplary rocky hermitage in which the hermits of Wadi Qadisha used to live.
The hermitage and church of Mar Hawqa (St. Hawqa) can be reached through a narrow, uneven path that takes 30 minutes to be crossed. It is built in a rocky sanctuary 20 meters high. The site dates back to the third century and contains remains of a cistern and rock-cut tunnels. Stairs lead to the first floor. The site becomes a pilgrimage on August 14, the Eve of Ascension Day. The history of the monastery is associated with the invasion of the Mamluks against Qalaat Hawqa, a natural fortress which is located in a cave above the monastery and that can be reached only by experienced mountain climbers. In this cave there are some paintings and a long Arabic text that dates back to 1193.
Deir Mar Antonios Qozhaya (the Monastery of St. Anthony Qozhaya) dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries. It can be reached from Tourza. It is one of the largest monasteries in the valley and it dates back to the Middle Ages. Monastic life began there in the mid-12th century.
In 1585, the first printing press in the Arab world was set up there. It printed in Syriac letters. The present printing press was purchased in 1871. The monastery took its present shape in 1926. As for the church, partly carved in the rock, it was renovated in 1864. Near the monastery there is a cave or the sanctuary of Mar Antonios known as the "Cave of the Lunatics" because lunatics and possessed people used to be chained there.
St Anthony-The Great Monastery’s Museum
The Museum is located in Qozhaya Valley, one of the ramifications of Qadisha Valley listed as World Heritage site by UNESCO. The Museum presents the first printing press in the Middle East dating from 1585. The Exhibition includes religious objects and vestments, in addition to gifts from kings, some clay pots and ancient agricultural tools.
Arbet Qozhaya, Besharreh
Telephone: 00961 6 995505
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM (Summer)
9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (Winter)