Garden at Rashana, Lebanon, a must-see
The word “garden” evokes images of colorful flowers and plants, graveled walks, and shrubs. The garden at Rashana, Lebanon, however, has none of these attributes. The town of Rashana is quite small, but it has a must-see site. On the way to Rashana, the tourist will see about a dozen marble sculptures lining the road.
Three Besbos brothers began sculpting and placing their pieces along the road as it approaches the studio. One brother has since died, but the two remaining ones keep the tradition alive. They invite students and sculptors to their summer classes to create diverse statues, which are left in the weed-infested garden outside the studio.
Cables and outdoor lights snake among the statuary for night-time illumination. Plaques adorning the statues show names from Croatia, the Sudan, the United States, Germany, France, Hungary, Rwanda, Czechoslovakia, and many other countries.
And what statuary! Everything from the graphic to the most abstract. As the visitor approaches, she sees twisted shapes and blocks of marble. Delicate figures contrast strongly with heavy, monolithic ones. The abstracts command attention because of their purity, and some of the more graphic depictions cause a chuckle.
Rashana is located between Byblos and Tripoli, about 58 miles from Beirut. The road along the Mediterranean Sea is reminiscent of Northern California’s coastline.
Strangely, very few people seem to know of the existence of the gardens. In 2000, my friend and I spent a fruitless day trying to find it. The Lonely Planet guidebook had given a brief description, and it piqued my curiosity. Every taxi driver we asked assured us that he knew where it was. We finally selected a driver, who then took us all over Lebanon, but we never found the garden. Three out of the four people he stopped to ask had never heard of the place; the fourth one told us it was along the Mediterranean coast. We gave up after eight hours of aimless driving.
However, I resolved to see this place! On a return trip in 2004, my daughter and I took a tour with Nakhal, a very professional tour group, and we visited Rashana briefly. We went back the next day in a rented car and strolled through the area and took pictures. It’s not hidden, and it’s certainly not a secret garden, but I felt as though I’d made an exciting discovery. If you want to see the garden, stop at the Tourist Office in Beirut, pick up a map and head for Rashana. It is well worth a visit.
And if you go that far to see the garden, you should see the rest of Lebanon. Californians tend to feel at home in this small but dynamic country because it is almost a miniature of that state.
While California has 800 miles of coastline and Lebanon only 160, the scenery looks very similar. Lovely harbor towns dot the land along the Mediterranean Sea. The two rugged mountain ranges, one of them permanently snowcapped, reminds an American of the beautiful Sierra Nevada. The vast growing area of the Bekaa Valley produces most of the same fruits and vegetables grown in California.
My daughter and I wanted to see our ancestral homes again, so we rented a car and visited the villages where my parents had been born. We also visited Saida, Tyre, Crusader castles, palaces, Byblos and Tripoli.
Lebanon has had a parliamentary democracy since 1943, a mild climate, a worldly capital – Beirut – and probably some of the most beautiful mountain scenery outside of Switzerland. In addition, Lebanon, which has always embraced religious diversity, has a 48-percent Christian population and many Moslem sects.
For such a tiny country, it has history sites galore. Romans, Arabs, Crusaders and Turks left their marks on this country. It is one of the few countries in the Middle East with a snow season. People ski in the Mt. Lebanon range, near the Cedars of Lebanon. Baalbek is considered by archaeologists to be one of the premier sites for Roman ruins.
We spent eight days and saw probably 90 percent of this beautiful country. The one truly unique place, though, was the garden at Rashana.
Mary Lu Leon lives in Grass Valley. This was her second trip to Lebanon.
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