Beqaa Valley

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Qaraoun Lake in the Bekaa Valley
Aammiq wetlands

The Beqaa Valley (Arabic: وادي البقاع / ALA-LC: Wādī l-Biqā‘, Lebanese: [bʔaːʕ]; also transliterated as Bekaa, Biqâ or Becaa; Armenian: Բեքայի դաշտավայր) is a fertile valley in east Lebanon. For the Romans, the Beqaa Valley was a major agricultural source, and today it remains Lebanon’s most important farming region.[1] Industry also flourishes in Bekaa, especially that related to agriculture.

The Chtaura-Taalabaya-Saadnayel-Zahle urban area, the valley's largest

The Beqaa is a fertile valley in Lebanon, located about 30 km (19 mi) east of Beirut. The valley is situated between the Mount Lebanon to the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains to the east. It forms the northeasternmost extension of the Jordan Rift Valley, which stretches from Syria to the Red Sea. Beqaa Valley is about 120 km (about 75 miles) in length and has an average width of about 16 km (about 10 miles). It has a Mediterranean climate of wet, often snowy winters and dry, warm summers. The region receives limited rainfall, particularly in the north, because Mount Lebanon creates a rain shadow that blocks precipitation coming from the sea. The northern section has an average annual rainfall of 230 mm (9 inches), compared to 610 mm (24 inches) in the central valley. Two rivers originate in the valley: the Orontes (Asi), which flows north into Syria and Turkey, and the Litani, which flows south and then west to the Mediterranean Sea.

From the 1st century BC, when the region was part of the Roman Empire, the Beqaa Valley served as a source of grain for the Roman provinces of the Levant. Today the valley makes up 40 percent of Lebanon's arable land. The northern end of the valley, with its scarce rainfall and less fertile soils, is used primarily as grazing land by pastoral nomads, mostly migrants from the Syrian Desert. Farther south, more fertile soils support crops of wheat, corn, cotton, and vegetables, with vineyards and orchards centered around Zahlé. The valley also produces hashish and cultivates opium poppies, which are exported as part of the illegal drug trade. Since 1957 the Litani hydroelectricity project—a series of canals and a dam located at Lake Qaraoun in the southern end of the valley—has improved irrigation to farms in Beqaa Valley.

Districts and towns[edit]

Zahle, the capital of the Bekaa Valley

Zahlé is the largest city and the administrative capital of the Beqaa Governorate. It lies just north of the main BeirutDamascus highway, which bisects the valley. The majority of Zahle's residents are Lebanese Christian, including those belonging to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Maronite Church, and members of the Greek Orthodox Church. The town of Anjar, situated in the eastern part of the valley, has a predominately Armenian Lebanese population and is also famous for its 8th-century Arab ruins.

The majority of the inhabitants of the northern districts of Beqaa, Baalbeck and Hermel, are Lebanese Shia, with the exception of the town of Deir el Ahmar, whose inhabitants are Christians. The Baalbeck and Hermel districts have a Christian and Sunni minority, mainly situated further north along the border with Syria.

The western and southern districts of the valley also have a mixed population of Muslims, Christians and also Druze Lebanese. The town of Jib Janine with a population of about 9,000, is situated midway in the valley, and its population is Sunni. Jib Janine is the governmental center of the region known as Western Bekaa, with municipal services like the emergency medical services (Red Cross), a fire department, and a courthouse. Other towns in the Western Bekaa district are Machghara, Sabghine, Kamed al Lawz, Qab Elias, Sohmor, Yohmor. These towns are all a mix of different Lebanese religious confessions. Rachaiya al Wadi, east of the Western Bekaa district, is home to Lebanon's share of Mount Hermon and borders Syria also. The district's capital, also Rachaiya al Wadi (as not to confuse with Rachaiya al Foukhar in South Lebanon), is famous for its old renovated souk and what is known as the castle of independence, in which Lebanon's pre-independence leaders were held by French troops before being released in 1943. The southern section of the district is inhabited with Druze and Christian Lebanese, while the other northern section is mainly inhabited by Sunni Lebanese.

Due to wars and the unstable economic and political conditions Lebanon faced in the past, with difficulties some farmers still face today, many previous inhabitants of the valley left for coastal cities in Lebanon or emigrated from the country altogether, with the majority residing in the Americas or Australia.

Landmarks[edit]

Wines[edit]

Main article: Lebanese wine

The Beqaa Valley is home to Lebanon's famous vineyards and wineries. Wine making is a tradition that goes back 6000 years in Lebanon. With an average altitude of 1000 m above sea level, the valley's climate is very suitable to vineyards. Abundant winter rain and much sunshine in the summer helps the grapes ripen easily. There are more than a dozen wineries in the Beqaa Valley, producing over six million bottles a year.[1]

Illicit drugs[edit]

Drugs have a long tradition in the Bekaa Valley, from the days of the Roman Empire until today cultivators and tribal drug lords working with militias built up a thriving cannabis trade. During the Lebanese civil war, cannabis cultivation was a major source of income in the Bekaa valley, where most of the country's hashish and opium was produced, a multi-billion-dollar industry fueling the agricultural sector as well as political factions and organized crime. The trade collapsed during the worldwide crackdown on narcotics led by the United States in the early 1990s. Under pressure from the U.S. State Department, the occupying Syrian Army plowed up the Bekaa's cannabis fields and sprayed them with poison. Since the mid-1990s, the culture and production of drugs in the Bekaa valley has been in steady decline, by 2002 an estimated 2,500 hectares[5] of cannabis were limited to the extreme north of the valley, where government presence remains minimal. Every year since 2001 the Lebanese army plows cannabis fields in an effort to destroy the crops before harvest,[6] it is estimated that this action eliminates no more than 30% of overall crops. Although important during the civil war, opium cultivation has become marginal, dropping from an estimated 30 metric tonnes per year in 1983 to negligible amounts in 2004.

Due to increasing political unrest that weakened the central Lebanese government during 2006 Lebanon War and 2007 (Opposition boycott of the government) and due to the lack of viable alternatives (U.N. promises of irrigation projects and alternative crop subsidies that never materialised) drug cultivation and production have significantly increased,[7] but remain a fraction of civil war era production and limited north of the Town of Baalbek, where the rule of tribal law protecting armed families is still strong.

Image gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Global eye - Spring 2006 - Eye on Lebanon - The Bekaa Valley
  2. ^ "Chateau Musar". Chateau Musar. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  3. ^ "chateauksara". chateauksara. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  4. ^ "Lebanese wine". Massaya. Retrieved 10 September 2013. 
  5. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - Lebanon
  6. ^ United Press International, Feb 26 2002 'Lebanon army destroys drugs'
  7. ^ Lebanese find troubles fertile ground for cannabis | Editor's Choice | Reuters

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°00′32″N 36°08′43″E / 34.00889°N 36.14528°E / 34.00889; 36.14528