Barefooting the Backyard of Al Natour Monastery
Anfeh | February 5, 2016
Blue nature has always brought wellness to humans, especially when the pace of nowadays life drains us out of energy. At the end of a busy week in mid winter, we crave sometimes for sunny spaces where green nature blends with the blue ‘scape’, be it the sky or the sea.
The illusion of ‘bare-footing’ the seashore in my country took me to Our Virgin Mary of Al Natour monastery in Anfeh in Northern Lebanon. The drive felt short even though the place is at 80 kilometers from the capital and 60 kilometers from my office. Stepping down from my car, salty breezes on my face gave me a sense of stillness where we cannot but be present and enjoy the moment and the place. I thought how lucky Tripoli’s residents must be to live just around the corner. At 10 km from their hometown, residents can enjoy a site mingling culture, history and valuable traces of unique vegetation communities of myrtle and lentisk. A place that absorbs us and brings into us the feeling of being faraway from the city and completely dipped in nature.
Lying since early 10th century on the northern coasts, the monastery of Our Lady of Al Natour was built by the Crusaders on Byzantine ruins. It stands on Cape of Al-Natour opposite to the Citadel of Anfeh. The Citadel built on rock formations by the Mediterranean sea holds the history of many civilizations which crossed the country and the eastern Mediterranean region. Walking the site, our eyes cannot but spot colourful lively scented gems of sand crocus, star of Bethlehem and anemones; growing amidst the rocks and bushes. Heading towards the seaside, salt pans crafted in terraces took me back to old times. Under the sunlight, the drying sparkling water brings salt to our traditional meals and recipes.
The stunning panoramic view can take our breath away. If we look at distance towards the south, we can see Ras el Chak’a in the background and at hand the Citadel of Anfeh and rocky shorelines. If we decide to follow the old railway, we can walk parallel to the coastline while crossing olive groves. The mix of green and blue places seems like a magnet. What we might take with us is a feeling of being hooked to the site. It seems to be a blessing to still have these spaces nearby cities and towns where we can reconnect with nature.
Before you leave, do not forget to buy salt from the Monastery. At 5 km towards the north, in Qalamoun you can buy rose water, pomegranate molasses and hand-made copper. On your way back to Beirut, you can visit Anfeh town’s religious churches from Byzantine era: Our Lady of the Wind (Saydet El Rih) considered to be the oldest church in the Middle East, Saint Catherine built in the 12th century which belonged to the Knights of Malta, Saint Simon and Michael Church and the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist (Mar Youhanna Al-Ma3madan).