First Published: 2018-04-15

Lebanon’s ‘Lamartine Valley,’ a source of poetic inspiration
Hammana offers an ideal environment for outdoor activities.
Middle East Online

By Samar Kadi - HAMMANA

The waterfall known as Shaghour Hammana in Mount Lebanon

It inspired French poet Alphonse de Lamartine two centuries ago and is still one of the most preserved and panoramic areas of Mount Lebanon. Hammana and its pine-covered valley known as “Vallee de Lamartine” is a typical Lebanese village with orchards, red-tiled stone houses, an old souk and historic palaces. It has resisted the blanket urbanisation that has defaced much of Lebanon’s countryside.

“It is almost the only village in the area that has preserved its architectural cachet and heritage,” said Hammana Mayor Bachir Farhat. “We have very strict zoning rules and a set of construction criteria, which we do not compromise, such as no high buildings are allowed and natural stones and red tiles are compulsory.”

Nestled in the heart of Lamartine Valley at 1,200 metres above sea level, Hammana was historically the economic centre of the Upper Metn District of Mount Lebanon. It is one of the country’s most popular mountain resorts, only a 30-minute drive from Beirut.

“It has been inhabited for centuries because it is very rich in water. At one point it had some 70 springs. People used to settle near water sources to cultivate and irrigate their land,” Farhat said.

A walk through the souk of Hammana, where cute little shops are centred on a well-preserved traditional fountain, is like a trip down memory lane, back to the old days of Lebanon.

At the tip of the old souk is the 700-year-old Mezher Palace, once the residence of the Druze governors of the district. Standing majestically on a rock overlooking the valley, the palace once hosted Lamartine, his wife, and daughter Julia during their voyage in the Orient in 1832. A commemorative plaque is in the room where the poet used to sleep.

Enthralled by the magic of the place, Lamartine wrote: “One of the most beautiful views that men have ever beheld, an opportunity to paint the creation of God, is the valley of Hammana. Painting or words can describe only one detail of the fairylike treasure with which the Creator endowed Lebanon. The greenery, the trees, the orchards and the forest are renowned, going down in succession and filling the valley with their riches.”

Today, Hammana and Lamartine’s hometown of Macon in eastern France have established special cultural ties. “We did a kind of pairing between the two villages. On May 5 we will be celebrating both villages in Macon through cultural activities. Last year the celebration was in Hammana,” Farhat said.

The annual Cherry Festival, a tradition established more than 50 years ago, is one of the main attractions in Hammana, famous for its different varieties of cherries. “We relaunched the festival after the war and it has since been a great success, attracting visitors from all over Lebanon,” Farhat said. “Some 20 tonnes of cherries were sold on that day and people can pick their own cherries in the many orchards.”

“The festival, which takes place in June, has encouraged people to replant their fields with cherry trees and helped reactivate the local economy,” he added.

Given that Hammana has a river that runs through one of the deepest valleys of Lebanon, it offers an ideal environment for outdoor activities, a feature that the municipality is set to build on. Ecotourism has been picking up through activities such as hiking, canoeing, abseiling over the waterfall, known as the Shaghour, trekking through a cedar forest that is 100 years old or snowshoeing in winter.

Hammana Artist House, in a three-storey building, was opened less than a year ago as a space dedicated to the performing and visual arts. It strives to become the residency of local and international artists who can meet, create and perform there.

“It was a dream come true to create a space out of the city and to create different dynamics in culture,” said Aurelien Zouki, artistic director of Hammana Artist House, which can accommodate up to 28 people at the same time.

“We host artists for one, two or three weeks, the time they need to develop their work and train, learn, meet and network,” Zouki said. “There is a huge need to have such a space because in Beirut artists lack proper conditions to work… They are working in a garage or on the balcony… Here is the perfect setting where they can dedicate all their time to their work.”

Hammana Artist House invites foreign artists to mingle and exchange ideas with young Lebanese artists and it hosts sponsored exiled Syrian artists, which Zouki said he hopes to accommodate free of charge.

The Lamartine Valley and villages will be the focus of the first pavilion representing Lebanon at the 16th Venice Biennale of Architecture under the theme “The Place that Remains.” It involves a reflection on the built environment versus the unbuilt land and visions for the future of Lebanese landscape.

Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Morocco, EU start talks on new fisheries deal

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Rouhani slams officials' 'vow of silence' in face of protests

Natalie Portman says backed out of Israel prize over Netanyahu

Rebels set to leave new area outside Damascus

FIFA to return to Morocco to check hotels, stadiums

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen