The District of Hermel
Hermel lies at the northernmost edge of the Bekaa Valley, 140 km from Beirut and 600 meters above sea level. The region holds a wealth of ancient monuments, stark landscapes, and flowing bodies of water.
Below these imposing remains is the “Blue Source” of the Assi River with its blue-tinted water. The stream flows through a rush riverside oasis in a landscape of dramatic but barren hills. Further north, are the Dirdara falls, wide fast-flowing rapids; at their base are several outdoor restaurants where diners can enjoy the cool atmosphere of rushing water.
Hermel is named due to the ancient historic monument The Pyramid of El, having a population of 80 000. Hermel is surrounded by Syria at the North side, Baalbeck at the South, the Assi River flow at the East, and Akkar and Tripoli at the West. Normally, the temperature average ranges from -5°C in January till 32°C in August, whereas its rainfall average reaches 250mm yearly.
Hermel has a number of intriguing sights and ruins due to the various civilizations that lived in this region such as the Pyramid of El, The Monastery of Saint Maroun, the Canalizations of Zenobia, the Byzantine Churches, the Fortress of Moalaqa – a monument dated from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II, and the birth of Gibran Khalil Gibran at the Al Ratel Valley where he spent his childhood.
Pyramid of El (Qamouat of Hermel):
On a hill-top surrounded by dessert not far from the Orontes (Assi River), stands a stone tower capped by a pyramid known in as the Pyramid of El. This historic monument dates back to the second century before Christ. It points upward like a finger and stands like some lighthouse.
Standing on a square pedestal of basalt surrounded by three steps, the Needle is composed of two enormous cubes of stone supporting pyramid summit. The total height is 26 meters which is equal to 45 course of stones (one course of rocky stones is equal to 60cm high), while the square base has a width 950cm of each side.
On the eastern face, the best conserved, one sees traces of where a bronze plaque was once placed and there is a relief showing a boar attacked by two dogs. On the northern face one sees a deer on the ground, while another stands grazing. On the southern side a gazelle is pursued by a dog surrounded by hunting material. The western face shows a scene full of action, perhaps a bull being attacked by wolves or some bear cubs.
The second part consists of eight courses of stones, where four columns are attached standing out about 15cm from each interface at the bottom of the pyramid. Above these columns Doric style crowns rise in addition to a Cornish constituting of several ribs that are prominent about 30 cm from the pyramid. As to the upper part of the pyramid, its base begin with a semi-circular Nis which wraps horizontally on the sides of the pyramid as a marvelous piece of engineering where the final base of the pyramid-like top of the obelisk extends giving the impression of the Ancient Egyptian civilization style. Although history confirms the crossing of Ramses II within this region, yet this doesn't prove that this monument is of the pharaoh style, but on the contrary this goes back to the Roman civilization having special architectural characteristics combined with other civilizations extending from Egypt to Syria keeping the Roman alphabet that indicated the Roman impact in the midst of the Greek influence which lead to the birth of the Byzantine Civilization later on.
The objective of constructing such a pyramid was to survey the area in anticipation of the invading armies and also to be used as a guide for commercial and military convoys, which extended from Byblos – Jbeil - through Fakra, Afka, Baalbeck, Hermel, Labwa, Homs, and Palmyra where light signals were given among these regions reporting the arrivals of kings allies or invaders. There are several secrets that lie within the construction of this monument on the internal and the external levels, for example: we notice that its external shape is located to indicate four directions, from the south facing the Kingdom of Baalbeck, from the north the kingdoms of Homs and Palmyra, from the west the Western Mountain Chain of Lebanon overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and from the East it overlooks the Eastern Mountain Chain where the canalization of the Palmyra water lies; moreover, the region surrounding the pyramid was planted with wheat feeding the Roman army which was called Roman Bohrat where golden colors sparkled during the harvest season in June, as these fields were inhabited by animals such as reindeers that were shown in the figures illustrated on the pyramid.
According to a historical Italian reference referring to the object of constructing this pyramid, states that this monument was built as a temple having a tomb beneath it. Some stories state that this monument was robbed and partially destroyed and then was restored later on.
Saint Maroun Monastery or The Builders' Castle
The Builders Castle is located at the east bank of the Assi River aligned with the Ain El Zarka spring. The Builders Castle is derived from the Roman language due to the Roman builders and architects who took it as a place to stay during their work at the canalization channels of the Kingdom of Palmyra and their building of the Pyramid of El. Studies have shown that both mentioned monuments were built having the material of the same nature in addition to the similarity in the defensive architectural style that Romans built in the Middle Eastern countries which is shown in the angled openings preventing the entry of arrows and darts and allowing the persons inside to be in control of such situations. During the Roman era, they were well known for avoiding the use of tents, thus encouraging the method of building masonry such as this castle which dates to 200 B.C.
Later on, in 425, this castle was transformed into a monastery where King Mourguian rewarded Saint Maroun's monks for resisting the Jacobi's where they expanded the building into several cells becoming a convent for prayer and worship. Simultaneously, the monks have dug within the convent in order to reach the Assi River seeking the access to water avoiding the departure from the monastery due to the prosecution of the monks at that time.
At this sacred location, 350 monks were martyred due to their refusal to the subordination of the Jacobi Patriarch Sawiros. In 517 A.D. 350 monks, followers of Saint Maroun, were assassinated during their passage from the monk's cave to St. Simon's church in Mount Barakat Northwest Halab. It is noted that on the 31st of July both churches – the eastern and the western – celebrate the annual memorandum of 350 martyr monks killed for the cause of faith.
The Canalizations of Zenobia
Within the core of the Hermel land lays the secret of the splendid engineering of the canalizations ordered by Zenobia Queen of Palmyra through creating a system to drag the pure and fresh Orontes water to Palmyra without revealing its function to the enemies. The first channel was extended from the current Orontes Bridge, and the second was extended from the spring of Al Labwa where both channels were connected into a single channel inside the Syrian Territory in a way that if one of the channels was destroyed the second will keep of feeding the water to Palmyra. The digging of these channels dates back to 200 B.C. during the rule of Alexander the Great in the Hellenistic era (323 BC TILL 31 BC).
The length of these channels are 90 km each, which are in the form of wells dug in the rocks where these Wells are connected to each other in a very large channel at a depth of 35 meters and a length of 2 meters.
In a word, the objectives from building such a project were plenty. In the first place, the natural passage of river within the Syrian territory was easier than dragging it from the Hermel region, in the addition to the fact that the river level was greater and stronger where floods of dust coming from the valley turned the water to become undrinkable. Secondly, the area was filled and inhabited with animals and mostly reindeers seeking water from the river which also lead to the impurity of the water. Thirdly, Palmyra feared water intoxication. The surface level of Hermel was higher than that of Palmyra which strengthened the flow of water.
As to the tools and means that were used in digging those channels were believed to be some fluids that caused crumbling rocks, whereas the tools that were to measure the channels are still unknown.
The Byzantine Churches
At the Eastern side from the entrance of the town Brissa, lays the ruin of grand Byzantine Church having an area of 200 square meters and consisting of a multiple of chambers and entrances leading to a semi-circular altar. Whereas at the western side of the town two Byzantine ruins are found, one of them is having an area of 32 square meters consisting of two chambers, where the first has a semi-circular shape and the second a rectangular shape.
The Ruins of Nebuchadnezzar
The Ruins that were found at the Hermel Mountains left of Nebuchadnezzar II are two rocks located at the road sideways. The one located at the western sideway is inscribed with the engravings representing the Cuneiform writing with patterns of two people referring to these inscriptions.
Some historians state that the translation of the cuneiform writing describe Nebuchadnezzar's objectives of the campaign ordering his troops to make a way to the coast reaching Jerusalem passing through Nahr el Kalb were he left inscriptions there also. As to the Eastern Rock, the inscriptions found indicate the illustration of a person wearing a military helmet looking at a leafless tree. This rock was carved upon his return from the campaign to Barissa in honor of the military men who were killed in battlefield.
Having this same road the Maronites took refuge from the oppression of the Jacobi's reaching Keserwan and Bechare regions.
Copyrights reserved at the National Organization of UNESCO.
This research was prepared by the Architect Dr. Ali Mosmar the graduate of Napoli University of Fine Arts, Interior Architecture, and History of Art.; and the University of Rome for Arts and Cinematography.
Instructor at the Lebanese University
Member of the of the Cinema Scenographers in Italy
Member of the Cinema artists in Lebanon
Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce in Milano, Italy
Deputy Commissioner and Minister in the Parliament of security and international peace
President of the university graduates in northern Bekaa
Vice President of the Lebanese Federation of Canoe and Kayak –
President of the Assi Club for Canoe and Kayak