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Few caverns in the world approach the
astounding wealth or the extent of those of Jeita. In these caves and galleries,
known to man since Paleolithic times, the action of water has created
cathedral-like vaults beneath the wooded hills of Mount Lebanon.
Geologically, the caves provide a tunnel or escape route for the underground
river, which is the principal
source of the Nar el-Kalb (Dog River). Located some 20 kilometers along the
highway North of Beirut, a large sign indicates the right turn from Zouk Mickael
village, just beyond the tunnel. The caverns are on two levels. The lower
galleries, discovered in 1836 and opened to the public in 1958, are visited by
boat. The upper galleries, opened in January 1969, can be seen on foot.
To mark the inauguration of the upper galleries, arranged by the Lebanese artist
and sculptor Ghassan Klink, a concert was organized in the cave featuring
electronic music by the French composer François Bayle. Other cultural events
have taken place in this unusual venue, including a concert by the German
composer Carl-Heinrich Stochhausen in November 1969.
Jeita remained a popular attraction until the recent Lebanese conflict forced it
to close in the mid 1970’s. Upon the initiative of Minister of Tourism Nicolas
Fattouche, the Ministry charged the German company "Mapas" to renovate
and re-equip its facilities by the most modern techniques and to operate the
complex. On July 6, 1995, this natural wonder was again open to the public.
The modern discovery of the underground river of Jeita dates to 1836 and is
attributed to Reverend William Thomson, an American missionary who ventured some
50 meters into the cave. Reaching the underground river, he fired a shot from
his gun and the resulting echoes convinced him that he had found a cavern of
In 1873 W.J. Maxwell and H.G. Huxley, engineers with the Beirut Water Company,
and their friend Reverend Daniel Bliss, president of the Syrian Protestant
College (later the American University of Beirut) explored these caverns. In two
expeditions carried out in 1873 and 1874 they penetrated 1,060 meters into the
grotto-principal source of the Nahr el-Kalb that supplies Beirut with water.
They were finally stopped by "Hell's Rapids", where the river flows in
torrents over razor sharp rocks.
Like explorers everywhere, Dr. Bliss, Mr. Maxwell and the other engineers could
not resist recording their names and the year on "Maxwell's Column", a
great limestone pillar some 625 meters from the entrance.
About 200 meters further on, in the so-called "Pantheon', they wrote their
names and details of the expedition on paper, sealed it in a bottle and placed
it on top of a stalagmite. The action of the lime- impregnated water has since
covered the bottle with a thin white film, permanently
fixing it to the stone. Between 1892 and 1940 further expeditions were carried
out, mostly by English, American or French explorers. These efforts brought them
to a depth of 1,750 meters.
Since the 1940's, Lebanese explorers, notably the members of the Speleo-Club of
Lebanon founded by the first Lebanese speleologist Lionel Ghorra, have pushed
even deeper into the Jeita grotto. Their methodical exploration revealed the
great underground system of the upper and lower galleries which is now known to
a depth approaching 9 kilometers.
The upper galleries, discovered in August 1958 by Lebanese speleologists,
required a hazardous climb to 650 meters above the entrance of the underground
river. Altogether, 2,130 meters of this gallery have been explored.
Inside the caverns:
In summer you can visit both the upper and lower galleries while enjoying the
refreshingly cool temperature inside the caves. The lower section is sometimes
closed in winter when the water level is high, but the extensive upper galleries
are open all year.
Plan on about two hours for the tour, which includes a boat ride through the
lower galleries, the visit to the upper galleries on foot and a film
The Lower Galleries:
This part of the cavern takes you to a beautiful underworld millions of years in
Both the 600-meter boat trip on a subterranean lake is only a sampling of the
system that has been explored for almost 6,910 meters. The first impression is
the sound of rushing water and a sensation of clean cold. But the roar of the
waterfall at the entrance gives way to profound silence as you glide deeper into
the cave. An effective new lighting system illuminates expert rock climbers-and
marvel at the columns and sculptures fashioned by those great architects-water
The Upper Galleries:
The approach to these dry galleries through a 120-meter-long concrete tunnel
does little to prepare you for the surprising world beyond. Formed several
million years before the lower caverns, this section shows what the entire cave
system was like before geological conditions displaced the subterranean river to
its present level.
For 650 meters you wind your way through different levels of the caverns,
contemplating the flowing stone draperies and other formations. Perhaps the most
dramatic sight is the yawning canyons and sink holes, some seen at a drop of
over a hundred meters.
Lebanese Ministry of Tourism; some changes
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