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Road to Byblos - Stop at Harissa

February 6th, 2006  - Post No. 13
Today, Fr Krikor, Dean of the Seminary in Bickfaya and Communications Officer for the Catholicosate, very kindly offered to drive me to Byblos, one of the oldest contiuously inhabited cities in the world (as in 8,000 years of continuous habitation!)

Along the way, not much past Nahr Al-Kalb (Dog River, see earlier post below), we took a turn off to climb a very steep hill (all the hills in Lebanon seem of this variety!), rising 400 meters in about 5 minutes, to a giagantic statue of Our Lady of Lebanon, overlooking the costal town of Jounieh, about 15 kilometers to the north of Antelias. The view from the monument is spectacular, to say the least.

The monument itself, quite impressive. A major pilgrimage site for the Maronite Catholic community, it is also high on the shortlist of the main Lebanese tourist attractions a bus load of Moslem tourists rolls in as we park the car.

Beside the towering monument, an equally towering front window to a very modern Maronite basillica.

A stunning site also greets us from the heights of the monument to Our Lady, a few hundred meters away and a truly magnificent Greek Orthodox Basilica dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul. Later Fr Norayr tells me that the architect of the Greek Basillica is an Armenian, the same Mardiros Altounian who designed the Cathedral at the Catholicosate.

After climbing to the dizzying heights of the monument of our
Lady, we drive over to the neighbouring Basilica. The interior of the Cathedral is truly remarkable. The basilica is filled with glorious mosaic iconography, from floor to ceiling, with rosewood furnishing, and a very finely painted iconostasis. One of the mosaic icons portrays St. Gregory the Illuminator, founder of the Armenian national church honouring both the architect and one of the major Christian traditions in Lebanon.

On our way down the hill, we stop at Bikirki, head office of the Maronite Catholic community in Lebanon and official residence of His Eminence Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Maronite Patriarch. His Emincence is a powerful figure in Lebanese politics. As we arrive, gaining permission to enter the compound from a rather sturdy Lebanesse Army guard, television news cameramen are busy packing their vans, a few political types gather at the entrance. Undoubtedly, talks have taken place here today in the wake of a mass demonstration of Moslems that turned nasty and resulted in the vandalism of St. Maron Church in the heart of Beirut. (see news posting, below)