The Orontes rises up between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges at the height of Heliopolis, Baalbek. It waters the land for some 500 kilometers, and so may be compared to the Garonne in France. According to Strabo, for some eight kilometers the Orontes flowed underground between Amapaea and Antioch, but in fact it only runs through a narrow enclosing gorge, where it is almost inaccessible, just after Hama, the ancient Epiphanie.
Its valley is highly fertile allowing an abundant agriculture with cereals, fruit trees, vines, and trees for oils and nuts. 450km. long, the river draws water from the mountains of North Lebanon, from the Nossairi Mountains and then from its tributary the Afrine. Its outlet was at Antioch, the capital of the East in the Roman Empire, with a very important port, of which some imposing quays can still be seen. Its waters still turn day and night the famous Norias or water wheels which provide water for several townships. There is lively tourist activity. At a height of some ninety meters in the ravine near Ain Zarqa there are the hollowed cells of the monastery of Saint Maroun, which may be reached by climbing up the rocks.
There are some characteristic falls, such as those of Dardara, name of a conifer abundant in the region, with a bridge over the river of the same name. Those who practice the now popular sport of canoeing have an opportunity to enjoy themselves. There is a cedar forest, and archaeological sites at Brissa, a Byzantine church and a Mesopotamian monument with cuneiform inscription, and water wheels, the most famous of which is that of Al-Aninya not far from an ancient bridge of the same name linking Syria with Lebanon. There is a natural barrage a couple of kilometers from the Dardara bridge, around which many tales have been woven. The tunnels bored through the rock by Queen Zenobia supplied water to the ancient city of Palmyra, Tadmor in Arabic.
The (Asi) Rebel River of Syria
1. According to Strabo (Geography 16.2.7 again), an Aramaean myth stated that the river used to be called after Typhon, a dragon, who had once been struck by a bolt of lightning and had fled undeground, cutting the earth and forming the bed of the river, and finally causing the fountain to break forth to the surface. Later, Strabo adds (without mentioning the source of this second statement), the river was called Orontes after a man who built a bridge across it.
2. The historical importance of the Orontes River stems from the convenience of its valley for traffic from north to south; roads from the north and northeast, converging at Antioch, follow the course of the stream up to Homs where they build the Al-Rastan dam , where they fork to Damascus and to Syria and the south; and along its valley have passed the armies and traffic bound to and from Egypt in all ages.
3. The Orontes River, which separated Syria from Egypt in ancient times, was a symbol of the Near East, as the Tiber was of Rome. The river flowed north in Syria for 250 miles, irrigating farmland and sweeping notably through the Seleucid capital of Antioch (see the city's coinage under Augustus). It emptied into the eastern Mediterranean, where a steady stream of its inhabitants departed for Rome.
4. According to Strabo, the river used to flow underground for a while, but resurfaced (Geography, 16.2.7). Brooks from both mountain ranges feed the river, which flows for about 400 kilometer in a generally northern direction, keeping the Bargylus Mountains to its left, and never becomes very large. Still, it is a pretty substantial stream that is navigable with rafts and can also be used to irrigate the land.
5. Because much of ancient historiographry deals with military matters, the Orontes became well-known At the end of the first century CE, the Roman poet Juvenal described a xenophobe who feared "that the Orontes was emptying itself into the Tiber", meaning that too many Asians had come to live in Rome (Satires, 3.62). There was no need to explain where this river was - any Roman reader knew it, and it could be used as pars pro toto for Asia.
6. In c.300, the city of Antioch was founded on the Lower Orontes. The river was depicted on the famous statue of the Tyche of Antioch, the city' good fortune, carved by Eutychides of Sicyon.