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Heritage in the hills

With its rich history, magnificent Crusader castle and panoramic views, Tibneen makes for a refreshing excursion in the south, as biodiversity conservationist Elsa Sattout discovers.
#LebanonTraveler, Issue 21 – December 2016.

A trip to southern Lebanon is always one of intrigue piqued by a sense of unexplored gems behind the hills that softly roll further inland from the coast. These undulating green silhouettes are indeed gateways to a diversity of environments and cultures with a rich history, as well as home to serendipitous surprises in the form of roads bordered by blue Jacaranda trees.

It is inland, 120km from Beirut and 25km from Tyre, in the Nabatiyeh district, that Tibneen lies. Set in the heart of the Jabal Amel plateau, the village was named after the Phoenician god Tabnet, who symbolized strength and protection. Later it was called Tibneen by the Arabs and then Toron by the Crusaders, using an archaic French word for isolated hill or high plateau.

Vestiges of Tibneen’s immense history still exist with archeological findings dating from the early Stone Age preserved at the American University of Beirut, and Stone Age megaliths discovered on the road connecting Tibneen to Beit Yahoun in Nabatiyeh housed at the Institut de Paleontologie Humaine in Paris. Certainly Tibneen has been an important landmark for many conquests and civilizations spanning from ancient history onwards. Set at between 700 and 800 meters altitude and extending over approximately 748 hectares, the town once acted as a crossroads between Tyre, Damascus and Jerusalem. When the Crusaders came and established rule, the locals enjoyed a certain amount of stability and autonomy, with their own coinage forged from red copper. At the time, the surrounding land was a fertile base for olive and wheat production, giving rise to Jebel Amel’s status as one of the Crusaders’ granaries.

A cornerstone of Tibnin’s Castle is believed to date back to 850 BC, but it was in 1106 that it took its most well-known form as a major Crusader castle. Wars and sieges played out in the following years, with the castle conquered by Saladin in 1187, recaptured by Crusaders in 1229, later destroyed and then rebuilt in the mid-18th century by a local sheik. From its hilltop vantage point today, the castle offers a 360-degree vista across the neighboring villages of Haris, Baraashit and Chakra, whose ancient remains are also worth stopping by to see.

Where to eat?
A variety of welcoming restaurants can be found in the area, including Tallet Al Kashef (03 770587, 07 325991), Hamoud, El Day’ah, and Cafeteria El Ghouroub. Fast food lovers can head to  Goody’s (07 326275). A picnic is another option, 50 hectares of pine and cypress trees as a backdrop

What not to miss?
On the way to Tibneen, don’t miss the tomb of King Hiram of Tyre found in Hanaway. A stop in Qana, the site where Jesus is said to have once turned water into wine. Fans of fine art may want to schedule a trip on a Thursday or Sunday when the museum of artist Moussa Tiba (1939-2014) in Haret Salha (07 430149, 03 568925) is open from 10am to 6pm.

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