A red-roofed town set among the eastern foothills of Mount Sannine, Zahlé enjoys a prime location in the Beqaa valley. Snowcapped mountains tower above it in winter, while in summer its 945-meter elevation keeps the air light and dry.
The city center spreads along both banks of the Bardouni River, with the older section of town on the upper elevations of the west bank and the shopping district on the east bank.
At the northern end of town is the Bardouni river valley known as Wadi el-Aarayesh (Grape Vine Valley) – the site of Zahlé's famous outdoor restaurants. Zahlé styles itself "The City of Wine and Poetry", and with good reason. In this century alone some 50 poets and writers were born here
and almost as many excellent wines and araks have been produced in the area.
The romance of wine and poetry is balanced by Zahlé's more businesslike position as the administrative and commercial capital of the Beqaa valley (42.27% of Lebanon's territory) as well as its rank as the country's third largest city (population 150,000).
Zahlé is also an agricultural town which produces vegetables, fruit, grains and most importantly, grapes.
Tucked away from Lebanon's busy coastal centers, the people of Zahlé have developed their own brand of individualism and way of doing things. Even their spoken Arabic has a particular flair. The city's reputation for intellectual vigor comes from a long line of writers, thinkers and poets who have contributed to Lebanon's cultural and political scene.
Zahlé in History:
Zahlé was founded about 300 years ago in an area whose past reaches back some five millennia. In the early 18th century the new town was divided into three separate quarters, each of which had its own governor.
The city enjoyed a brief period as the region's first independent state in the 19th century when it had its own flag and anthem.
Zahlé was burned in 1777 and 1791, and it was burned and plundered in 1860.
But during the rule of the Mutasarrifiah, Zahlé began to regain its prosperity. The railroad line which came through in 1885 improved commerce and the town became the internal "port" of the Beqaa and Syria. It was also the center of agriculture and trade between Beirut and Damascus, Mosul and Baghdad. Considered the birthplace of the Lebanese army, Zahlé has played a major role in the political life of the country.
The Geha House:
A good example of Zahlé's local
architecture is the restored Geha House in the old part of town. Although this
is a private home, one can easily appreciate its courtyard, garden and arched
upper galleries – all typical of 17th century architecture.
An old underground tunnel 1,400 meters long leads from the house to the church of St. Elias (Al-Tuwak). Built by Sheikh Khalil Geha in the early 17th century, today the seventh generation of the Geha family resides in this 24-room dwelling.
Other private residences in the same area are the lovely al-Hindi, Youssef Azar and Wadih Skaf houses. These are several hundred years old and also designed with arcades and walled gardens.
The restored Serail or government house in the old part of town dates from 1885. This beautiful building, whose architecture reflects the European and Arab influences of the Ottoman period, will soon house the offices of the municipality and a museum illustrating Zahlé's history.
At the start of the 20th century Zahle began building hotels to serve its budding tourist and summer resort trade. Although the "Sohat" (health) Hotel built in 1878 has been demolished, three establishments from this era can still be seen: the Hotel America, the Hotel Akl and the Hotel Kadri (undergoing restoration).
The Kadri, built in 1906, has seen its share of history. The hotel was taken over by the Turkish army in 1914 and used as headquarters and a hospital during World War I.
It was from the Kadri as well that in 1920 the French Mandate authorities announced annexation of the judiciary areas which would give "Greater Lebanon" its present-day borders.Lebanese Ministry of Tourism; some changes applied.
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