The village of Rashaya
Rashaya is a most attractive little town seated on the western slopes of Mount Hermon. It lies in the South Beqaa 85 kilometres from Beirut, ensconced in the northern side of the valley known as Wadi et-Taim, from where there flow a number of water courses that feed the river Jordan, famous for its religious associations, which descends southward into the Sea of Galilee and beyond that into the Dead Sea much lower down.
The township stands at an altitude of 1,360 metres, half way up the famous mountain, whose summit rises to 2,814 metres above sea level and to be exact to 3,300 metres above the Beqaa-Ghor depression, which makes it the second highest mountain in Lebanon, somewhat lower than Qornet es-Sawdat but rather higher than Sannine. It is from Rashaya that anyone sets out who wants to climb Mount Hermon from the Lebanese side, winding up the mountain past picturesque vineyards and fig-tree groves below, then wild ravines and jagged escarpments till one reaches the very top, which marks the frontier between Lebanon and Syria. It might even be that this was the high mountain mentioned in the Gospels, Mark 8: 1 and elsewhere, scene of the Transfiguration, “after Jesus had passed through the upper valley of the Jordan north of Cæsarea Philippi” (the present town of Banias.)
The township of Rashaya has always occupied a strategic position overlooking the et-Taim valley and since time immemorial has been the emplacement of an impressive and famous fortress which was in turn Canaanite, Greco-Roman, Arab, Crusader and Ottoman. The massive Feather Tower, built by the Crusaders in 1172 on the still visible remains of more ancient fortifications, was refurnished in the 17th century by the Shehab family, who made it the seat of their power. This fortress has more than once played a role in the history of Lebanon, particularly when rival foreign powers have pitted against one another the various religious communities which otherwise lived peaceably together, Druze, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics and Syriacs – there are four very old churches, two Greek Orthodox and one each for the Greek Catholics and the Syriacs. In the tragic year 1860 there was a horrible massacre, with blood spilt even inside the citadel. In 1925, on November 22nd, later to be a date of destiny, this place was the scene where the French authorities suffered a memorable military defeat. In 1943 the members of the new Lebanese Government, President Beshara el-Khoury himself, the Speaker of Parliament Adel Osseyran, and ministers Camille Shamoun, Abdel-Hamid Karameh and Selim Takla, were imprisoned in the citadel on a hasty impulse of Commissioner Jean Helleu, Delegate General of the Free French authorities. The latter quickly disavowed the Commissioner’s action, so the prisoners left the citadel of Rashaya head high to sign the new Pact of the Lebanese Republic on November 22nd, so making this day a double anniversary.
This famous town, famous in history but turned to the future, offers its visitors a delightful natural setting, with its high plateau dominating the valley, the terraced gardens, thousand red-brick houses, and its main street once paved in stone, now known as the “souq” (market), leading up to the citadel. There is here a most lively social and cultural life. One receives a warm welcome from the 6,500 Druze and Christian inhabitants, who live happily together while practising the traditional crafts for which they are famous, particularly silver work and jewellery. To these delights may be added an agreeable climate, cold with several snowfalls covering the ground in winter, warm but dry in summer, and marked by 290 days of sunshine each year. What could one wish for better?