One of the most beautiful outlooks that men ever had the chance to take on God’s creation is the Valley of Hammana. This is how in 1833, the famous French poet Alphonse de Lamartine described this small village located in the heart of the Lebanese Mountains.
Almost two centuries later, Hammana still fits this description.
Whether in spring or in summer, in winter or in autumn, this village has picturesque and colorful views to offer its visitors. With its red tile-roofed houses and its waterfalls, Hammana look like an exquisite painting.
In 1996 Hammana was chosen by the Paris Political Institute, in collaboration with the French government and the Unesco, as a typical Lebanese village.
In fact, the lively night life, and the parties organized in the village’s square going on till the early hours of the day, bringing generations to dance side by side, might have brought the music to Hammana, but it certainly didn’t touch the authenticity of the place. The hospitality of the people, typical only to mountaineers is unequaled, and in Hammana you will feel at home.
The Cherry In Hammana:
Cherry festival draws visitors to Hammana village each year.
Nestled in the heart of Lebanon, the municipality of Hammana has been blessed with summer’s most delectable fruit: cherries. To celebrate its harvest, Hammana – in partnership with Souk el Tayeb (a Beirut-based organic food cooperative) – hosted its inaugural Karaz (Arabic for cherry) festival 10 and 11 June.
The name Hammana comes from the Phoenician Sun God, “Hamman.” Perhaps owing to the climate particular region, the village of Hammana has long been known for its cherries. Five types can be found: Mukahal, Pharouni, Khamri, Kalb al Tayr, and Italian. The differences are subtle, but the cherry stands that line the Old Souk – where the festival is held – encourage tasting, and after a few tries, one wonders how a Pharouni could be mistaken for a Mukahal.
A village of 7,000 residents, Hammana is home to 10 cherry farms. All are family owned, some going back hundreds of years. The farms range in size from small operations (50 cherry trees), to its larger counterparts (700 or more). Locals recall that before the 1975-1990 Civil War, there used to be more farms than farmers – everyone had a garden featuring a cherry tree or two.
But since then, like many other rural communities, Hammana has lost many of its residents in search of better economic opportunities abroad. “Many left for North America and Australia. But in the summer they come back,” says Joseph Khoury, the municipality’s local development officer, main organizer of the festival, and temporary press officer for Sunday’s event. He also adds that the recession has brought a few families back to Hammana.
The Karaz festival used to be a local institution in Hammana, but had come to a halt because of the Civil War. 2016 was the first year that the municipality played an active role in reclaiming its former glory as the cherry capital of Lebanon.
In the past, the festival involved a Miss Cherry pageant, and a competition rewarding cars with the best cherry-themed decorations. 2017, this year, the festival has replaced the pageant with a children’s eco-activity station, and cars with cherry stands. “The idea is to honor the agricultural farmers who make up a large part of the community,” says Habib Rizk, the young and effervescent mayor of Hammana.
The nine cherry stands on display were the main event, but Hammana’s beans (badrieyh and white fasolya are its specialty) were also vying for attention. Local chefs served generous servings of bean dishes to the hungry and the curious.
Because the festival was organized in conjunction with Souk el Tayeb, many business from Beirut were also present, displaying colorful crescendos of rose jam, fig confit, seasoned labne, sheep fat, and even cherry kebabs. In between such culinary ventures were other nooks to explore: local arts and crafts, photo exhibits of high-mountain orchards, and a booth to sign up for cherry-picking and hiking trips to the nearby farms and slopes.
When asked to comment on what Hammana is known for aside from cherries and beans, Mayor Rizk emphatically adds that the municipality’s next project is advancing eco-tourism. “Beans and cherries, and now eco-tourism, are the three pillars of Hammana economy.”
Rizk plans to equip the cliffs for climbing, and develop its hiking trails in efforts to promote the local tourism industry. Andre Bechara – a former Hammana council member and co-owner of Lebanese Adventure, an outdoors activities company specializing in ecotourism, adds that Hammana “is outside the tourist circuit, but [we] would like to put it back on the map.” He argues that although Hammana is outside of the Lebanese Mountain Trail, the views from its high plateaus that yield a stunning spectacle of the red-tiled houses against verdant landscape would be any hiker’s fantasy.
A British tourist visiting from Beirut marveled that everyone seem to know one another. Another visitor from a nearby village remarked that the festival is allowing for Lebanese from other parts of the country to get a taste of the local product and also to see for themselves what Hammana has to offer.
The festival includes, the cherry-picking activity, this year this activity included 700-800 participants.
When asked if the event was a success, Khoury exclaims “everyone is happy!” A total of 45 business participated, with over 500 kilograms of cherries sold, yielding a LL 200 million profit for farmers. A woman from one cherry stand explains that of the 130 kilograms that she brought to sell, only 3 kilograms were left (even these were sold out by the end of the day).
Building on this success, Hammana will hold a comedy festival (Hammana Festival de l’humour) on July 21-26 2017.
The Silk In Hammana:
Hammana was until the 1930’s an important center for the cultivation of Silk.
Mentioned in the Old Testament, silk is one of the oldest fiber textiles to be produced by mankind.
In order to feed the warm as they come to life, Lebanon have particularly specialized in the cultivation of berries, the quality and the life span of which depend on altitude, Hammana a premium location for this cultivation.
The production of Hammana’s refined silk prospered for centuries, with large quantities of textile being exported to Tuscany in Italy first, and then to France since the XVII century, when Colbert, Louis XIV’s Finance Minister, promoted the commercial traffic between Marseille and the Levant.
Between 1847 and 1850, five factories, three of which are France owned, were build in Lebanon. Rapidly, the number of factories multiplied, becoming 67 in 1867, 101 in 1885, and 194 in 1893.
In 1911, the quantity of silk produced in Lebanon and Syria reached 524,000 Kilos, the largest part of which was exported to Lyon in France via the Beirut port.
This beautiful and prosper production eventually slowed down with the instruction of artificial silk and the consecutive economic crisis the country has gone through.
One of the most famous silk factories was that of “Veuve Guerin et fils” which provided high quality product known as the “grand extra.” Important edifices, including traditional factories has been preserved and at least one has been transformed into public hospital.
Almost half of century since the First World War, extinguished chimneys are still standing in the Mountain’s village, as a mute witness that for long centuries, silk production was the principal pillar the Lebanese economy.
How to get there:
Hammana is a town in Lebanon, about 26 km (16 miles) East of Beirut and is part of Greater Beirut. Hammana sits at an altitude of 1200m (about 4000ft) above sea-level. It is in theMount Lebanon Governorate in the district (or Caza) of Baabda. Hammana is bordered by the towns of Falougha, Shbaniye, Khraybe, Bmariam, Khalwet and Mdeirej
The best way to get there is by taking the Damascus Road. But if you are looking for picturesque sceneries you should take the road that passes through Araiya and Abbadiye and make sure you stop at Ras al Harf.
This small village is as fresh as the water sources that it hosts, the most famous of which are Ain al Nabe, Ain el-Berde, and Ain el-Heloue.
Further up, the forest of chbaniye, a grater location to stop for a quick picnic or even camping. while there, you could also take a look at the Monastery Mar Ephrem, which is about to be restored by the Beaux Arts Institute.
Attractions in Hammana:
The Bon Pasteur Monastery:
Is a historic classified monument that was built in 1895 by the Congregation. This building, which serves today as a shelter for children and single mothers, and a center for the education of young delinquents, have started its activities as a school and hospital receiving patients from all races and religions.
Between 1900 and 1913, the sisters of the Bon Pasteur became involved in the cultivation of silk.
The Mezher Palace:
When he visited Hammana, Lamartine stayed in the residence Mouqaddamins Druzes, the Mezhers for 15 days only. But the then 700-year-old house left its mark on the poet.
“The castel of the Sheikh of Hammana, surpasses with its elegance, grance and nobility, all I have seen of the type, since the Place of Prince Beshir in Deir Al-Qamar. We could only compare it, to our most wonderful Middle Ages Gothic chateaux,” wrote Lamartine.
Two hundred years later, the places remains untouched, majestic and overlooking the divine view of Chaghour river, cherry and apple plantation.
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