Saturday, 26 December 2009 Today I am seeing Lebanon with a different pair of eyes. Firstly, today, the sky was filled with grey clouds. Then, I forgot to mention an observation F. made yesterday. It is almost impossible to see teenagers in Lebanon. But there is a baby boom. I guess that after the civil war ended and the country became safe, people started having babies again. Today with our new driver Joseph and Hala we went up on the mountains and to the Bekaa Valley. We passed through the Druze villages on the mountains. The Druze religion is something in between Christianity and Islam. Their book is called the Book of Wisdom. They dress only in black and white. The men wear black shalwar and the women wear a black dress and cover their head with a white scarf. On the mountains, we stopped by "Beyt-i Din", Palace of Faith.
It is a palace constructed by a Lebanese Ottoman governor. Hala talked about this governor as a prince as if to say they wouldn't bend their neck for the Ottomans but this prince was sent to Istanbul to be punished by the Ottomans and the Turks got hold of the palace. The general architecture and rooms (hareem and salamlik etc) of the palace have the same idea as the Topkapi Palace. It has been kept very well. The mosaics from ancient times are very nice and well preserved. But of course the Topkapi Palace and the palaces we've seen in India are much better than Beyt-i Din.
After visiting the palace, we passed onto Bekaa Valley. We were accompanied by the view of the Lebanon Mountains’ summits, which were covered in snow. The word Lebanon comes from "labne", which means yoghurt. Even in the epic of Gilgamesh, Lebanon is mentioned as the land with yoghurt summits.
Intercity roads and villages are like the intercity roads in Anatolia. The buildings lack aesthetics. They are very different than Beirut. On our way to our last stop in Lebanon, the Baalbeck Temple, due to traffic and crowds, we had to pass through Hezbollah villages where the population mainly consists of Shiites.
Monday is an Ashura day for the Shiites. I believe that it is the day when they remember Ismail's murder. Everywhere is decorated with black Hezbollah flags, even the youngest girls have their heads covered, women are completely covered in black and the men are in beards.
Hala told us about Hezbollah not as a terrorist organisation but as a guerrilla unit, which defends Lebanese rights against Israel. I don't know. But as I was walking among the supporters of Hezbollah, I did not feel concern or worry because Hala and Joseph who are Christians were quite relaxed. They were walking in massive crowds to the mosque chanting Shiite songs of praise and slogans. There was even a group of men hitting their back with a piece of cloth - not with chains. This was the first time I have witnessed this with my own eyes, other than on TV. After the call for prayer ended, words in Arabic kept on coming from the speakers of the mosque. I guess these were things unique to Shiites. While we were visiting the Baalbeck Temple, the call for prayer and the other sounds coming from the mosque accompanied us.
The Baalbeck Temple is one dedicated to Jupiter, very impressive and huge.
The columns, the remnants of the statues, mosaics and everything else are even more impressive and bigger than Parthenon in Athens.
Seeing a bit of history (after the Western imitation in Beirut), the buildings on the intercity roads even though ugly, built as best the locals know how to and our fantastic lunch meal (it is exactly the same as the Ottoman cuisine, the only difference is that they eat hummus with everything) made us have a lovely day.
Joseph drove us all the way to Damascus. We first passed the Lebanese border in the car and then by walking in some places.
After passing no-man's land, we entered Syria and met with our guide at the border. The difference in the Syrian landscape immediately became apparent; dry, stony and yellow lands.
It is almost impossible to see a tree. I feel more like I am in the Middle East now that I am in Syria. The Mediterranean really has a huge impact on Lebanon's nature and climate. The outskirts of Damascus are like the suburbs of Istanbul such as Atakoy etc. filled with tall and ugly apartment buildings. Our hotel for the night is Talisman II, which is within the old city walls of Damascus. No car can enter inside the city walls because the streets are very narrow and dark with no character so they may cause disappointment. We went into our hotel through a small door and found a completely different world inside. It is an incredibly nicely decorated building and courtyard.
It is just like the inside of the hotel we stayed at Jerusalem, American Colony.
Our room, number 6 looks onto the courtyard. It is exactly in the style that I would imagine the Middle East, Syria to be. Our room is even more beautiful. The door and the ceiling are in Ottoman style. Our wardrobe is covered with mother of pearl. We entered through that small door and found ourselves in a different world.