Little it is known to us Lebanese the ancient history of our towns, especially those perched upon the mountains or cuddled deep in the valleys, far from the upbeat fame of our capital.
So when we come to know, for instance, that the people of Ehden descend from the tribe of Shem, the son of Noah, that Lebanese town dubbed as “The Bride of Summer Resorts in the North of Lebanon” calls us to dig deeper for more.
Located at 1500-m above sea level, Ehden was built in ancient times by brave settlers said to be from the tribe of Shem, Noah’s son.
In that rocky region of breathtaking forests and views, they braved its cold and snowy winters, relished in its fresh and sunny summers, and went on transforming the rocky hills into agricultural land, establishing their heaven on earth or that which they came to call Eden or Ehden.
To date, Ehden’s name remains a subject of scholarly arguments. Some stipulate that it derives from Adon (Adonis) meaning “power, stability, and tranquility.
Others insist that the name is actually the same Eden mentioned in the Bible. The Vatican has in its possession a booklet by Patriarch Estephan El Doueihi (1630-1704) explaining that theory.
The ancient Persians were not far from that theory. As per a leather-manuscript dating back to 1293, the Persians used to call it Patchilassar, meaning the paradise of the area, due to its breathtaking environment of trees and freshwater streams.
Stepping away from the opposing arguments, as I personally want to believe that Adam and Eve’s paradise mustn’t have had harsh winter weather, let’s go into the mentions of Ehden in ancient history, indicating Ehden’s existence in the BCE period:
– 850 BCE: the Aramean king Hadadezer came to Ehden and rebuilt it, hoisting a statue of its god known then as “Baal Loubnan” or “The God of Snow.”
– 700 BCE: Sennacherib, the Assyrian king through his leading assistant Rabshakeh, occupied Ehden and destroyed it by setting it alight and overturning its statue.
– 300 BCE: Seleucus I, leader of an army that was a part of Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army, rebuilt Ehden. Seleucus I also built a large pagan temple on the eastern side where he erected a statue of the Sun-god Helios.
– 64 BCE: Pompey blockaded Ehden. He conquered and destroyed it. It was not until the rise of Christianity that the Lebanese rebuilt it.
If Ehden was not a paradise, it was certainly a very desired village worth fighting over by kings and emperors.
The Greeks must have also loved it quite significantly to have lengthened their stay to the CE period, leaving their inscriptions in the year 282 CE by Mar Mama Church to be found in our times.
At the time, Christianity was already blooming all through the coasts of Lebanon, with Saint Peter’s headquarter and disciples’ school in Byblos, and expanding towards the mountains, slowly taking roots in Ehden.
A Syriac inscription of that time speaks of the budding Christianity there, “In the name of God who is capable of resurrecting the dead. In the year one of Alexander … Marcos had lived and died.”
However, it was only by the end of the 6th century that all Ehden converted to Christianity with the Maronite priests of Saint Maroun and St. Simeon Stylites.
Massive stone crosses were built on top of the mountain, and several churches were erected simultaneously over the ruins of the pagan temples: Mar Mama, Mar Boutros, Mar Youhana, Mar Ghaleb, and Mar Istfan.
However, Ehden would not come to rest peacefully in its paradise for long. By the end of the 13th century, the natives joined the Crusades in their battle for Tripoli and, soon after, the Mamluk invaded Mount Lebanon and burnt down Ehden.
Two centuries later, in 1586 CE, Ehden endured another fierce fire aggression but no recording was found indicating the perpetrators.
Due to its stormy history of those times, little was left of Ehden’s numerous ancient temples, monuments, and statues.
However, despite their stormy history or maybe because of it, Ehden has prevailed across the millenniums, raising strong and resilient natives, fierce in protecting that which they still call their Eden on earth.
Ehden gave to Lebanon people of thought and spirituality, who left their marks. Among them, four Maronite patriarchs including Patriarch El-Doueihi.
Ehden also gave Lebanon patriotic heroes, like the legendary Youssef Beik Karam who led a rebellion of 12 consecutive battles in 1866-1867 against the Ottoman Empire rule in Mount Lebanon.
Today, Ehden is home to 23 places of Maronite worship between churches, monasteries, convents, and shrines. It is a beautiful mountain city and a summer destination for many Lebanese seeking a healthy environment, dry climate, and natural freshwater.
A city more than a village, perched on one of Lebanon’s most beautiful mountains, it booms with restaurants, coffee shops, shopping centers, hotels, cultural and art galleries, stage theatre, and specialty shops.
It is also equipped with a public hospital and summer schools, and it hosts prime international festivals.
Next time you visit Ehden, remember that you are walking the mountain land of the first settlers of the tribe of Noah’s son, and the home of the braves and the resilient.