Ehden (اٍهدن in Arabic) is a mountainous town situated in the heart of the northern mountains of Lebanon and on the southwestern slopes of Mount Makmal and Kornet el Sawda, the highest peak in Lebanon. Its occupants are primarily the people of Zgharta as it is part of the Zgharta District.
Ehden is a famous summer resort and touristic center often called "the Bride of Summer Resorts in the North of Lebanon."
Gastronomy is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in Ehden, especially in summer. Kebbeh Meshwyeh (krass), a traditional cuisine, is particularly notable in this town.
The name of Ehden comes from Adon, Adonis meaning power, stability and tranquillity. It is corroborated by the Arabic root Hdn meaning steadiness, calm and fertility. “Adon” means also “the base and the mountaintop” translating into “top of the mountain and its base”Patriarch Estephan El Douaihy along with Father Martens the Jesuit lean toward the conclusion that Ehden’s name is derived from Eden where Adam and Eve lived following their exit from paradise. Douaihy left a booklet in Latin regarding his point of view. It is kept in the Vatican library. Orientalists Hawiet, Rose Goaler and Orkwart supported Douaihy and Martens’ viewpoint. It was contested by Ernest Renan in his book mission en Phenicie and by father Henri Lammens.
They obtained their vision from its widely spread views overlooking some wonderful scenery. These attributions have made them people of generosity who contributed immensely in the fields of thought, literature, patriotism and religion. Ehden is the original homeland, and first home for Zghartians who moved in the 16th century to Zgharta on the Lebanese coast. They built Zgharta through hard work and unity and transformed it into their winter home away from the snow of their mountain. Four centuries later, Zgharta had been established as their prime residential home. And thus after thousands of years when Ehden was the sole home of Zghartians, it became basically a summer resort. Nevertheless, the importance of the history of Ehden remains, as all Zghartians are proud of its humanitarian, economic and historical role. It remains in their view the Jewel of Lebanon and its protective sword, which is always alert and ready to guard it in face of any danger.
- One thousand years B.C. Ehden was ruined when its inhabitants left to fight the Israelis along side the Aramaic kings, and settled there (in Palestine).
- 850 years B.C. the Aramaic-Syriac king Hadd Azzar came to Ehden and rebuilt it, hoisting a statue of its god known then as “Baal Loubnan” or “ The God of Snow”
- 700 years B.C. Sanharib, the Assyrian king through his leading assistant Ribshaka the Aramaic, occupied Ehden and destroyed it by setting it alight and overturning its statue.
- 300 years B.C. Slokos, leader of an army that was a part of Alexander the Macedonian’s army rebuilt Ehden where a group of Macedonians settled (Macedonia is a state of Greece). Its people spoke Greek for many years. Slokos also built a huge idolatrous temple on the eastern side where he hoisted a statue of “ The god of Sun”.
- 60 years B.C. Pompais, following the fall of the Great Alexander, blockaded Ehden. He conquered and destroyed it. It was not until the beginning of Christianity that the Assyrians rebuilt it.
At the end of the sixth century Ehdenians converted to Christianity. Maronite priests of St. Maroun and St. Semaan el-Amoudi helped convert them into Maronites. They built five churches all at once on top of the ruined idolatrous temple, using its stones for building Mar Mama, Mar Boutros, Mar Youhana, Mar Ghaleb and Mar Istfan. In addition, they raised huge stony Crosses on top of their mountain.
There has been found on the exterior of Mar Mama church Greek writing with the equivalent date 282 AD and also Greek numerals near the church. Also found has been Syriac writings which have been translated as saying “ In the name of God who is capable of resurrecting the dead. In the year one of Alexander…Marcos had lived and died”
At the end of the 6th century Ehdenians converted to Christianity with the help of Maronite priests of St. Maroun and St. Semaan el Amoudi. They built five churches using the stones of the ruined temple to build Mar Mama, Mar Boutros, Mar Youhana, Mar Ghaleb and Mar Istfan.
A brief account of Ehden's history has been found written by one of its inhabitants who fled from the Mamluk invasion in 1283, tying the manuscript to his chest for safekeeping.
Father George Yammine found the manuscript, which was written, on an old piece of leather, at the start of the nineteenth century in a priest's home in Bsharri. He copied it and following his death, his son Sheikh Roumanos Yammine kept it. It was then passed onto Monsignor Hanna Dib Saydet. In 1930, Historian Semaan el Khazan discovered a copy of that document with another Historian, Father Youhana Maroun Farah el Seb'ali, who had copied it from Monsignor Saade in 1904. It says
" Ehden is a very old village located in the north of Mount Lebanon. It used to be known as 'Patchilassar' a Persian pronunciation meaning 'the paradise of the area'. It is enriched with fresh water, trees and a breathtaking water stream called Mar Sarkis bursts off its eastern mountain. A tribe related to Sam, son of Noah settled in Ehden, which later became a famous site".
In 1283 the army of King Alzaher invaded and burnt Ehden.
In 1586, Ehden was burnt again according to a found manuiscript but it does not mention by whom, all it says that "Ehden was burnt in the year 1897 of the Greek calendar" which means the year 1586 A.D.
In 1610 the first printing press in the Middle East was set up St Anthony of Khozaya Abbey near Ehden. Early publishing was mostly of religious works in Arabic but printed in Syriac (Karchouni) characters. The printing press is still on display there.
The Greek writing is sited on its exterior garden wall where most of it has been erased through the passing of time. Two lines are still visible in the lower section. A date is also visible of the Alexander year 584, which is equivalent to year 282 A.C. The second writing is in the shape of Greek numbers written on a gravesite next to the church, but could hardly be recognized. As for the Syriac writing, “Rinan” translated the remainder of its meaning in his book titled “Phoenician Mission” as follows: “ In the name of God who is capable of resurrecting the dead. In the year one of Alexander …. Marcos had lived and died” There is also a historical writing, which was transferred to France and is preserved in its Paris museum in the Orient section, numbered 4524 and dated 272 A.C. Dr. Philip Hitti in his book “ Lebanon in History” affirms that; “Ruins dating back to the era of the Roman Empire are widely spread over the mountains. Statues carved on rocks, in addition to Greek and Roman sculptures, graves, temple ruins and buried columns were found in branched and distant villages like Chouslan, Kartaba, Akoura, Tanourin and Ehden.” Ehden’s most famous Christian site is “Dayr al-Salib” (Convent of the Cross), which is a symbol of an era of transformation for Ehdenians who had turned away from idolatry and converted to Christianity, according to a historical document written by Father Kozma. This convent is situated between Ehden and Bkoufa in the versant of Mar Sarkis’ mountain. It is a large grotto containing an altar and was identified by large stones forming a Cross that was placed on top of its entrance, but vanished in 1935. Nevertheless, Al- Semaani wrote in his book “ The Eastern Library” that he witnessed those cross-engraved stones in Hassroun, Bsharri, Ehden and Aytou. Mar Mama church, which was built in 748, is considered as one of the oldest Maronite churches in Lebanon. Father La Monse described it as “ an eighth century church built over a destroyed Byzantine church (sixth century) which was in turn built over an old Canaanite temple”. Mar Youhana church was built in 779 but was ruined. Some of its huge stones were still around till the start of the twentieth century. Two churches belonging to Mar Sarkis convent were built, the first in the 8th century and the other in the 12th. Names of some areas hold a historical meaning such as “Al-Baoul area” named after (Baal the God), “Bab al-Bowayb” meaning (The Door of Doors) for it leads to the kingdom of “Afka” in Ehden’s forest. Afka is the first holy city in history according to Father- Dr. Youssef Yammine al-Ehdeni who is trying to prove this theory by embarking on historical research he has not as yet completed.
Visitors reach Ehden travelling from Beirut through Tripoli, Zgharta, Arjes then Ehden, or from Beirut through Seika, Al-Koura, Seraal, then Ehden, or from Beirut through Baalbak, Al-Arz-Becharri, Kfersghab, then Ehden. The road from Zgharta to Ehden is considered as one of the most beautiful mountainous roads. There are lots of famous quality restaurants in Ehden known all over Lebanon for their hospitality, high standard, pleasant food and generosity. Most restaurants are located near Mar Sarkis water stream, Al-Dawalib, Horsh Ehden and Al-Middan. Al-Middan is well known for its cafes, sweet shops and entertainment. Annual Folkloric Festivals are held on Al-Middan. Many tourists and visitors who attend Al-Middan ultimately visit Mar Gerges Cathedral, the coffin of Youssef Bey Karam and his statue on “Al-Ketla”, as well as the statue of Al-Sahyouni and Sheikh Asaad Boulos Gravesite. Many cafes can be found in “Al-Moghtaribin” (Immigrants) Street and “Al-Mattal” area, creating a atmosphere of celebration lasting all over Ehden summer attracting tourists and visitors from Lebanon and the world. Concerts featuring stars of Lebanese and Arab singing are held almost nightly. First class hotels and resorts are available for tourists. In addition to modern motels, bars and clubs. Ehden has experienced a building boom in recent times extending beyond its traditional precincts where modern villas and apartments were built. New roads have been developed and old ones were widened to cope with increasing traffic. Convenience and tourism services for comfortable living are widely available in Ehden. There are various shopping centres, speciality shops, health services provided in a public hospital operating throughout the year, plus medical surgeries, chemists, official centres, post and phone centre, summer schools and all facilities needed to provide visitors with the relaxation they require. Ehden is a great site for art events such as hosting cultural and art galleries, stage theatre, open air plays, lectures and forums held by great and talented Zghartians and Lebanese thinkers and intellectuals. Ehden’s visitors have a variety of options apart from enjoying its resorts. They can walk through its natural and magical sites, breath its clear healthy air, or organize a quiet picnic beside its many streams of fresh water surrounded by fantastic scenery.
A large pagan temple was built by Slokos a commander in Alexander the Great’s army and raised a statue of " The god of Sun" near by. The temple and statute were destroyed in 60 BC by the Roman Commander Pompey. Following their conversion to Christianity the people of Ehden built from the stones of the destroyed temple five churches over the temple precincts as a symbol of Christianity’s victory over paganism.
The churches from North to South are:
2- St John’s. The church no longer exists but was located near the statue of Patriarch Stephane Doueihi.
3- St Chaleh's. Originally called St Zakhia's meaning in Syriac "Victor". This church was near the corner above St Mama's. The building no longer exists.
4- Mar Mama church. The oldest Maronite church in Lebanon.
5- St Estephan's. Named after the first Christian martyr. This Church, which no longer exists, was located a few metres where the present Mar Mama church stands.
The area surrounding St Peter's church was originally the large public square of the pagan temple where the ancient Ehdenians used to meet during feasts and religious ceremonies. They used to sacrifice their eldest sons to their then pagan god for the well being of their families and people, a tradition inherited from ancient Semite times (Abraham and his son lshak). The blood of those sacrificed used to accumulate in the temple square and then streamed through a stone canal to the where the five churches were built. There was a well, which collected the blood near where St Chaleh’s church stood.
Ehden’s forest is on the NorthEast side of Ehden and is an area of 3000 hectares, with a 1300 to 2000 metre elevation from sea level. Approximate elevation of 1893 metres at “ Al-Jafieh”, 1550 metres at “ Ayn Naasah” and 1440 metres at “Ayn al-Baq” valley. The forest embraces a vital natural forestry reserve with a variety of 40 different types of native plants such as cedars, fir, pine, elm and many others. In addition, 400 different distinctive plants of which 66 grow only in Lebanon, and 11 of the 66 grow distinctly in Ehden making it the sole area in the world to feature these 11 unique plants.
Few of Ehden’s distinctive plants are:
1. “Stripirtps Libanotica” discovered by botanist and scientist La Plader in 1758
2. “Diatanos Karam” discovered in 1870 by botanist Le Blanche who called I it in honour of Youssef Bey Karam.
3. “Flower of Ehden’s forest” (Zahret Horsh Ehden)
4. “ Cotsina Libanotica” thorny plantation.
5. “ The tooth of the Lebanese tiger” (Sin al-Asad al-Loubnani)
Trees that are distinctive:
1. Wild apple trees
2. “ Al-Derdar” (Elm) tree with only four trees of its type left in Lebanon.
3. “Abies Cilicica” a scientific name for the fir tree, which classify Ehden’s forest as the last southern boundary for that tree in the northern half of the Globe. This is confirmed in the World Natural Plantation demographic maps.