The cedar trees of Lebanon were much heralded in the times of antiquity for their beauty, fragrance, commercial value, and utility in building. Research derived from historical abstracts reveals the relationship between ancient Lebanese cedar trade for commercial and economic profit, and the denudation of the once beautifully forested lands of the Levant. This case study, therefore, has certain relevance as an ancient trade issue with apparent environmental consequences, as demonstrated by a minimally forested Lebanon today; the significance of this research is hence justified.
The Cedar Tree: 'glory of Lebanon'
A Case Study in the Use and
Misuse of a Resource
In antiquity, there were a variety of different peoples populating the Levant; the most prominent being the Canaanites, Aegeans, Aramaeans, and Phoenicians. For the purposes of this paper, I will focus on the Phoenicians and their pursuit of a thallasocracy (defined as a maritime empire) based on the sale of lumber throughout the Mediterranean. The results of their commercial interests and sea-faring exploits had a special impact on the timbered areas of Lebanon, as near-total denudation took
place. Of secondary importance to this paper will be the effect of military campaigns and the exaction of tribute on Levantine deforestation.
Along coastal strips and lowlands of the Mediterranean, the primary areas of settlement, forested land was rapidly cleared. [Semple, p.266] As a consequence, a lumber trade developed between well-timbered regions and sparsely-timbered or deforested regions of the Mediterranean. For nearly three millennia (c. 2600 B.C. -
138 A.D.), the timber from the mountains of Lebanon served obvious needs of early settlement, demand for fuel, ship and other building material, and timber for cabinets inclusive. [Semple, p.267] Writers such as Theophrastus, Homer, Pliny, and Plato, along with the Old Testament provide the modern world with documented descriptions of the once richly forested mountains of Lebanon. The wood's importance in social development and improving the economic well-being of ancient civilizations is also alluded to in the
Among the most significant centers of trade in lumber were Sidon and Tyre. Due to their geographic location close to the sea, the cities acted as ports for trade, wherein cedar logs from the outlying mountains would be felled and sent down stream, often tied together as rafts. The destinations were, in these cases, often populous coastal lowland nations, e.g. Egypt and Palestine, which had little timber and a need for building materials. [Baramki, p.19 and Semple, p.271] "...Phoenicia, especially Byblos, supplied Egypt with the timber which she needed for her buildings, her boats, her furniture and fuel, and especially her funerary equipment. Vast quantities of cedar and pine timber were made into rafts and towed by boats from Byblos, mainly to Egypt, as early as 2800 B.C..." [Baramki, p.18] Egypt chose Phoenician ports for commercial relationships because of its relative proximity. The next nearest source of lumber trade would have had to come from Amanus or Cyprus. [Meiggs, p.62] Records detail trading relationships which developed for such important historical constructions as Jerusalem's new temple built by King Solomon of Israel. A contract was made between Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre, wherein cedar logs from the mountains of
Lebanon, as well as pine, were gathered and sent downstream for the specific purpose of building the famously ornate Second Temple.
The communication between the two kings reads: "As you dealt with David my father and sent him cedar to build himself a house todwell in, so deal with me." [II Chronicles, ii.3] Biblical passages such as this one represent the most detailed record of the Phoenician lumber trade. It is written that Solomon even went so far as to send forced laborers to Phoenicia in order to assist in the clearing and facilitate the transportation of cedar to Palestine. [Mikesell, p.18] Meiggs contends that securing cedar wood was a necessity for Solomon, because he was attempting to compete with other regional kingdoms for prestige and reputation.
Lebanese cedars built into the Israelite Temples would help Solomon in this regard. [Meiggs, p.69] Of further interest, Harden explains the dominating Phoenician influence in the temple's architecture. "The full description in the Bible of Solomon's temple at Jerusalem, built as it was by Phoenician workmen, gives some indication of what an important
temple looked like." He continues, "The inner sanctuary...of Solomon's temple was panelled with cedars from floor to ceiling and its ceiling was of cedar beams and planks forming recessed panels." [Harden, p.91 and p.141, as well as Mikesell, p.18] Meiggs provides the details: Cedars were also lavishly used in the palace and adjoining buildings. The so-called House of the Forest of Lebanon was larger than the temple, 150x75x45 feet. The wide span of seventy-five feet, more than twice the width of the temple, needed internal supports for the roof. There were four rows of cedar columns with beams of cedar over them and further lengths of cedar on top of the walls, which were made of carefully cut blocks of stone. These two series of cedar beams formed the basis of the roof, with smaller cedar timbers over them and a sealing of mud. Cedar was also used for the panelling of the Hall of Judgement. [Meiggs, pp.70-71]
These Tyrian and Sidonian commercial deals represent the level at which Levantine cedar timber was esteemed in Palestine. Not only were cedars used in the first two sacred temples, but contracts were also made to ship Phoenician timber for the restoration of the Second Temple (c. 520 B.C.). [Ezra, iii.7] The relationship continued to develop, as men of Kings Hiram and Solomon engaged in joint commercial expeditions along the Mediterranean. [Meiggs, pp.71-72] In another case, because timber along the coastal region of Asia Minor was exhausted, cedar wood from Lebanon was imported for the well-reputed edifice: the Temple of Diana. [Semple, p.275] Also, in sixth century B.C. Egypt, Amasis claimed that he happened upon Osirisþ sacred barge at Thebes. Upon finding that it was made
of weak, small acacia wood, he rebuilt it with strong, large cedar wood. [Meiggs, p.59] A further popular use of cedar timber in antiquity was with monumental doors and roofing. In the Near East, as well as Rome and Greece, long boards of cedar were cut for roofs and temple and palace doors. The famed temples of Seti I at Thebes and Osiris at Abydos serve as examples of cedar-based architecture. [Meiggs, p.64]
Additionally, because of its richly forested mountains, the Levantine region was the object of repeated conquest by neighboring peoples, most notably Babylonia, which had been importing wood for its temples as early as 3,000 B.C.5 [Semple, p. 271] Throughout antiquity, however, there was a demonstrated effort on the part of all controlling nations to make use of the cedar timber of Lebanon. Meiggs explains that, "The most colorful records [of the forest area vegetation pattern] are the royal inscriptions of Mesopotamian and Egyptian kings, who thought it natural to include records of their tree-felling in the accounts of their military campaigns and to hand down to posterity a description of the palaces they built." [Meiggs, p.53 and Mikesell, p.12] The conquest of areas surrounding the mountains of Lebanon, therefore, provide modernity with a veritable historical record of the forests, as well as
documentation of the several uses of its timber and efforts at clearing areas. "Cedar was thought to be the prize which all the states of the Near East coveted, and for which the empires of Egypt and Mesopotamia were prepared to fight." [Meiggs, p.55]
Accounts abound concerning the diminution of cedar timber in the mountains of Lebanon as a result of tribute payments. Due to the constant quest for control of the valuable forested lands, records from various royal peoples detail the spoils of their successful military campaigns. Thut-Mose III, Seti I, and Ramses III are but a few who made a point of mentioning the fine timber secured from Lebanon as tribute; the cedars supplied them with wood for ships, ceremonial barques, beams, masts, temples, etc. [Mikesell, p.12] The Phoenicians, often were required to construct ships as well. Meiggs contends that this was the case with the campaign of Thut-Mose III, who demanded ships be built so that his armies could cross the Euphrates. "When my majesty crossed over to the marshes of Asia, I had many ships of cedar built on the mountains of God's Land near the Lady of Byblos." [Quoted in Meiggs, pp.65-66]
Oftentimes, military campaigns consisted of elaborate plans for logging expeditions (the means of assuring payment of tribute). Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar inscribed the details on-site in stone:
I cut through steep mountains, I split rocks, opened passages and [thus] I constructed a straight road for the[transport of the] cedars. I made the Arahtu float[down] and carry to Marduk, my lord, mighty cedars, highand strong, of precious beauty and of excellent darkquality, the abundant yield of Lebanon, as [if they be]reed stalks carried by the river. [As quoted by Mikesell, p.13]
In this way, Egyptians and Mesopotamians used military meansto overcome a domestic shortage of a natural resource which wasslow to replenish itself.6 Leaders of these various nations then,looked at wood as a justification for military campaigns; theexaction of tribute enabled conquerors of the Levant toappropriate, and thence denude, parts of the Levant's rich supplyof forested land. By doing this, they easily circumventedshortcomings at home. Spoils of victory in the ancient Near East,then, included wood from Lebanon.7 Cycles of consolidated power inEgypt and Mesopotamia (later Persia too) reflected the fluctuationsin Phoenician commercial history and forest use. Relativeprosperity by either one of the flanking kingdoms amounted toeffective control of the Levantine timber (which often manifested
in demands for tribute). [Meiggs, pp.72-73] Isaiah's tersememorial for the forest-clearing Nebuchadnezzar (upon his death in 562) reads:
The whole world has rest and is at peace;
it breaks into cries of joy.
The pines themselves and the cedars of Lebanon exult over you.
Since you have been laid low, they say,
no man comes up to fell us.
Mesopotamia, not unlike Egypt, contained sparse plots of serviceable trees. In order to supply the Mesopotamian kingdoms in antiquity with wood for palaces and temples, external supply sources were sought. At first, Amanus was chosen because it was
closer; however, as detailed above (fn.7), the tall cedars of Lebanon soon overshadowed their shorter Syrian counterparts from Amanus. Lebanese timber, then, became the object of veneration and eventual conquest. [Meiggs, p.63]
Historically, the Phoenicians had the most prominent and dominating influence (commercially-speaking) in the Levant. Owing to their Aegean ancestry, the Phoenicians were a great sea-faring people, and their fleet of ships were built primarily with cedar and pine timber from the mountains of Lebanon.8 [Semple, p.270-71] Baramki points out that the Phoenician people, "[E]stablished a thallasocracy over the Mediterranean for over four centuries and over the Aegean for at least three and a half centuries. They were never eclipsed as a maritime nation until the rise of Venice, Genoa and Pisa in the Middle Ages. It is this fusion of [the Aegean and Canaanite] races which heralded the Golden Age of Phoenician greatness." [Baramki, p.26] Harden adds that the joining of trade in raw materials, such as cedar timber, and imported raw materials helped to establish their maritime dominance. [Harden, p.137] Baramki further maintains that, "It was the unlimited produce of the hinterland from the Lebanon to the Persian Gulf that they carried over the seas to Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Africa, Spain and the Islands in the basin of the western Mediterranean and brought back the products of the latter countries to Phoenicia whence they were carried...to the hinterlands of Asia." [Baramki, p.62]
From the location of Phoenician settlement, it may be extrapolated that the cedar timber from Lebanon, by virtue of its
geographical proximity, provided an integral - perhaps even a necessary - resource with which their thalassocracy was established
and on which it thrived. [Baramki, p.63] Additionally, it may be suggested that the cedar forests, which provided the Phoenicians with the timber needed to produce their galleys, helped to export the several products (other than wood) for which Phoenicians are famous: namely the alphabet, knowledge of astronomy, and their renowned purple dyes, as well as, "[P]roducts of Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria and Syria to the Greek world, to North Africa, to Sicily, to Spain, and even to the remote coast of Etruria." [Baramki, pp.58-62] Richer detail of Phoenician trade is added by Ezekiel: "[T]he markets of Tyre...offered linen from Egypt, silver, tin, lead, and iron from Spain, copper from Cyprus, horses, mules, and articles of bronze from Asia Minor, sheep and goats from Arabia, gold precious stones, and spices from Yemen, and a host of other products from near and far." [Ezekiel xxvii.1-25] It was the ship building, however, that served as the primary industry of the Phoenicians during their Golden Age. [Baramki, p.63]
Evidence of cedar timber brought from Phoenicia to nations along the Mediterranean, especially that which was used in the construction of buildings, is extant in texts and historical artifacts. [Semple, p.270] Nevertheless, timber from other regional forests near and around the Mediterranean contributed significantly to the resource supply. "It was especially the
northern mountains of the Mediterranean Basin, with their heavier rainfall and denser forests, which yielded the most ample and
varied supply of timber, and which therefore, furnished the chief cargoes for the lumber fleets of ancient times."[Semple, p.273]
The cedar lumber from Lebanon, therefore, did not serve as an exclusive resource in antiquity. Nevertheless, the Levantine forests were the object of continual military campaigns. This point serves as a marker of the cedar woodþs relative value in the Mediterranean. "In addition to the Levantine forests, pine was
available on Jabal Sinjar, and oak, juniper, hawthorn, and other species could be found in the Zagros range. Thus the importance of the Phoenician forests is probably best explained not merely by a need for timber but, rather, by a desire for timber of exceptional size." [Mikesell, pp.16-17] The consequent campaigns in the Levant when other wood could be had were an indication of the cedar timberþs veneration.
Lebanese cedar wood was revered for various reasons by ship builders and those involved in the construction of buildings. Pliny used the cedars of Lebanon as a standard by which all other timbers would be measured. [Semple, p.283] The Greek historian Diodorus also documented the relative strength and beauty of the Lebanese cedars. [Meiggs, p.57] Detail of the venerable cedars is provided by Meiggs. He describes how, when given a choice among Levantine woods, the cedar was an obvious first option: The kings of Mesopotamia and Egypt chose cedar for several reasons. As a tree it was a patrician, the fir plebeian. The wood of the cedar, unlike the fir, resisted rot and insects and
was very durable, as was demonstrated in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the roof-beams of which were of cedar and still in good condition four hundred years later. It also had an attractive aromatic scent, took a good polish, and was appreciated by carpenters and cabinet-makers because it had a close, straight grain and was easy to work. ...[B]oth cypress and juniper were
less handsome and neither could compare with the cedar in height. [Meiggs, p.55]
Around the time of Plato, the local forests of Greece were denuded, and as a result, the Athenians imported an extensive
amount of timber, most notably from Phoenicia. [Semple, p.276] It is this wood that contributed to the development of the great Athenian fleet of ships. [Semple, p.276] Semple establishes that: Later the expansion of Macedon over all this coast as far as the Hellespont excluded Athens from her nearest and surest lumber supply, and jeopardized her sea connection with the Caucasus and Pontic forests, until her incorporation into Philip's empire again opened these sources of supply. Athens revolted from Cassander in 305 B.C. and forfeited her right to use the Macedonian forests. Then she turned to Demetrius of Syria and was promised timber for a hundred war ships. The wood doubtless came from the Lebanon range. [Semple, p.277]
Theophrastus attests to the acclaimed utility of cedar (along with fir and pine) in ship-building in several of his passages. [Cited in Meiggs, pp.56-57] The reputation of Lebanese cedars' durability and fragrance traversed the Mediterranean to the Greek and Roman worlds. It later penetrated the world of the Persian empire as well. In fact, references provided by historians cite the Phoenicians' cedars as being central to the construction of the Persian fleet which battled the Greeks during the fifth century B.C. [Meiggs, p.83]
Clearly, lumber from the Levant proved to be an invaluable resource in antiquity. The cedar's seemingly endless supply in the sparsely forested eastern Mediterranean region, along with its intrinsic value, helped to bring its reputation to one of prominence. Hitti provides the relevant citations. "[The Lebanese cedars'] excellences have been sung by poets, prophets and historians. References abound to its strength (Ps. 29:5), durability (Jer. 22:14), majesty (2 K. 14:9; Zech. 11:1-2),
suitability for carving (Is. 44:13-15), stateliness (Is. 2:13; Ezek. 17:22)." [Hitti, p.37] The prose in Ezekiel sufficiently attests to the cedar's reputation:
Look at Assyria: it was a cedar in Lebanon, whose fair branches overshadowed the forest, towering high with its crown finding a way through the foliage. Springs nourished it, underground waters gave it height, their streams washed the soil all around it and sent forth their rills to every tree in the country. So it grew taller than every other tree. Its boughs were many, its branches spread far; for water was abundant in the channels. In its boughs all the birds of the air had their nests, under its branches all wild creatures bore their young, and in its shadow all great nations made their home. A splendid great tree it was, with its long spreading boughs, for its roots were beside abundant waters. [Ezekiel 31:3-7]
The reverence for and knowledge of the forests of Lebanon in ancient Mesopotamia is presumed in tales from antiquity, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh. The story tells that, "When they had come
down from the mountain, Gilgamesh seized the axe in his hand: he felled the cedar. When Humbaba heard the noise far off, he was enraged; he cried out, who is this that has violated my woods and cut down my cedar?" [The Epic of Gilgamesh, 2nd millennium B.C.] Mikesell elaborates on the historical references: "[T]he vivid forest episode of the Gilgamesh Epic suggests an awareness among ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia of a vast 'green mountain,'
where tall cedars "raised aloft their luxuriance" and cast a "delightful shade." [Mikesell, p.14]
Historically, resinous wood such as the Lebanese cedar had numerous applications, and as a result, was continually sought after. Semple delineates its uses: According to the evidence, the crying need of eastern Mediterranean lands was for ship timber. A multitude of fishing smacks, naval vessels, merchant ships, and coastwise transportation boats kept up the demand for fir, pine, cedar and minor woods which
entered into their construction. The coniferous forests were therefore constantly levied upon; and they were further depleted
by the steady demand for pitch, tar, and resin. Traffic in these usually accompanied the lumber trade, and emanated from the same sources of supply... The demand for all products of resinous woods was relatively
greater in antiquity than now. They were employed for the preservation of ship wood and all ship equipments, for coating the interior of earthenware wine jars, and for the preparation of volatile oils, salves and ointments, which were almost universally
used in ancient times. Resin and tar were the chief basis for cough medicines prepared by Greek physicians, and were ingredients
of salves for external use. Oil of cedar, distilled from the Syrian cedar, was regularly used for these purposes, because its antiseptic or cleansing qualities were recognized. It was exported from Phoenicia to Egypt where it was needed for embalming the dead. The Romans used it for soaking wood as a protection against decay and insect attack. This was the ancient forerunner of the modern creosoting process. [Semple, p.282] Baramki adds another dimension to the historical record when noting that Egypt, "one of the largest timber-consuming countries of antiquity," required cedar wood for the solar barque of Raþ, but it did not possess the natural resource domestically. Indeed, because of Egypt's funerary rituals and buildings, trade with timber suppliers, such as the Phoenicians, developed. [Baramki, p.19] Mikesell substantiates this by noting that cedar wood was, "[P]rized by Egyptian builders of sarcophagi, coffins, and other appurtenances of burial. In addition, resins from cedar, fir, and pine were used in mummification." [Mikesell, p.13] Edifices as well as coffins throughout Egyptian and other north African archaeological sites also bear this point out. [Harden, p.141]
Nevertheless, overland commercial trading proved to be problematic in most instances for Egypt because of the dangers posed by the nomadic bandits of the Sinai Peninsula and Palestine. [Baramki, p.19] As a result, overseas trading with a maritime power such as Phoenicia was cheaper and more reliable - not to mention
safer. Thus, a commercial relationship spawned by sea. At times, however, the relationship was quite lopsided, as Egypt periodically maintained control over Byblos and other nations occupying the Levant. [Baramki, p.21] Consequently, much of the timber Phoenicia exported to Egypt was done partly as a form of tribute. [See above and Baramki, p.21] The bandits were not limited to the Sinai and Palestine,
however. Evidence points to a perennial problem with robbers living in the Levantine mountains as well. Reportedly, they were
able to hinder Phoenician commerce and harass woodsmen from the highlands to the Mediterranean. This domestic problem was tempered for a short time during the reign of Hadrian; nevertheless, it continued unabated for some time during free Phoenician rule. [Mikesell, p.21]
Unfortunately, along with the great tales of the rich forests of Lebanon and the collateral commercial and economic opportunities, come stories of forest clearing and denudation. Due to the relatively limited supply of lumber along the eastern Mediterranean, as well as the extensive demand placed upon it by the rapidly growing population centers in the area, denudation of the Levantine forests took place rather quickly.10 [Semple, p.289] Additionally, only the best trees, Lebanon cedars inclusive, were sought after for the construction of elaborate and ornate palaces, temples, and other buildings. As this demand grew progressively over time, the timber supply correspondingly dwindled into a state of scarcity. [Semple, p.290] Evidence of exploitation in times of modernity records that timber from Mount Lebanon was undoubtedly used in construction of the first Muslim fleet (c. 645) at Acre and Tyre. Evidence that the pine forest near Beirut was exploited for shipbuilding during the Crusades has already been cited. That timber continued to be exported from Mount Lebanon is indicated by the use of cedar in Umayyad palaces and mosques. Similarly, when al-Mansur moved the seat of Abbasid government from Baghdad to Samarra in 836, he ordered that wood for the new capital should be imported from "Antioch and all the littoral of Syria." [Mikesell, pp.23-24]
Grainger recounts some of the perils faced by the forests of Lebanon. He explains that, "Not only was timber used for ships - both warships and merchant ships - but it was used as fuel for many other industries. Theophrastus mentions two especially located in Phoenicia, burning lime to make mortar and a technique for producing pitch which involved burning the living tree. Further, an old-established industry at the cities or, at least, Tyre and
Sidon, was bronze manufacture, while Sidon was known for the manufacture of glass, both of which consumed great quantities of fuel." [Grainger, pp.71-72] Mikesell adds that, "[M]erchants of Damascus, Tripoli, and other Levantine cities continued to exploit its denuded slopes for firewood and charcoal, a practice that
persists today.' [Mikesell, p.24] Therefore, it is clear that the industries of Phoenicia that have survived over time contributed
(and contribute) significantly to the permanent state of deforestation in Lebanon. In an attempt at verification of this, Mikesell interpolates the historical record from details surrounding current lifestyles of Druze and Maronite villagers atop Mount Lebanon. Many, for instance, have noticed that smelting and wood-consuming industries exist to this day. [Mikesell, p.23]
With the denudation of the forests came the denudation of the soil, the consequence of which was a feedback effect. An absence of forest cover resulted in a scouring of the earth by torrential autumn rains. Humus was washed away leaving the mountain sides barren and vulnerable to the elements. [Semple, p.291] "In many sections of the Mediterranean a single deforestation has meant denudation of the soil also and hence, the permanent destruction of the forests. Hence all Mediterranean lands today show a lowpercentage of forested area, despite the predominant mountainrelief which would naturally be devoted to tree growth." [Semple, p.291] The loss of fertile soil closed the causal loop; trees are unable to grow back and replenish the barren area once home to dense forests. It can only be assumed that plants and animals dependent on the forest growth and cover also perished as a result of the twin forms of denudation.
The difficulty in replenishing the timber supply is due in part also to the porous limestone soils, which only produce a maqui
when devoid of tree life. [Semple, p.261] Maronite and Druze villages high atop points of Mount Lebanon have given tacit
approval of shepherding, which has resulted in the destruction of seedlings and the felling of many remaining, mature trees. [Mikesell, p.23] Goat and sheep grazing, fires (either begun intentionally or accidentally), summer droughts, lack of shade, and the excruciatingly slow accumulation of soil, have all worked against any natural replenishment as well as human-introduced efforts at reforestation. [Semple, pp.290-91] The forests suffer seemingly permanent losses as a consequence. "With the exception of quick-growing pines, coniferous species seldom play a prominent
role in the colonization of abandoned land, for goats continue to range over most of Mount Lebanon. Cedar, delicate in its reproductive requirements and slow to mature is especially ill equipped to colonize in regenerating formations used as goat pasture." [Mikesell, p.25]
Although the Phoenicians were largely responsible for the cedar lumber's extensive trade and consequent scarcity, they also, quite possibly, helped to preserve what exists today. In other words, the insight and resourcefulness of the Phoenicians likened them to environmentally conscious traders. They recognized that their timber supply was depleting, and they sought to maintain it as best as they knew how. Semple explains, "One is led to surmise also that those expert Phoenician woodsmen, who were commended by King Solomon, may have understood the fundamental principles of
forestry and therefore have intelligently exploited their timber supplies." [Semple, p.289] As the wood grew scarcer, the Phoenicians looked elsewhere for timber supplies and carefully preserved the remains.
The motive for the Phoenician invasion of Cyprus (eleventh century B.C.) quite probably was due, at least in part, to the necessity of preserving and conserving the timber from the mountains of Lebanon. The forested mountains of Cyprus furnished
an alternate supply source of timber for the Phoenicians as resources in the Levant began to dwindle. [Semple, p.271] There were several other short-lived attempts throughout history at protecting the forests from clearing and exploitation.
Emperor Hadrian provides an excellent example of this effort at delimiting an area of preservation and control. The Mamluk dynasty also looked upon the wood from the Levant with great reverence;
consequently, the sultans controlled the forest land and regulated (often from Damascus) the use of its timber. [Mikesell, p.24]
In sum, the development of lumber trade in the Mediterranean in times of antiquity has left the mountains of Lebanon with few of its historically venerable cedar trees. Harden reports that, "The Lebanon was in ancient times prolific in cedar trees and other useful timber, but only a few plantations now remain, carefully preserved. The best lies near the source of the Nahr Quadisha, inland from Tripoli." [Harden, p.301] Several of the existing forests are owned by villages within which the trees stand. The trees are maintained in expectation of a tourist trade developing;
unfortunately, there is evidence that tourism is also contributing to the demise of Lebanese cedars. Mikesell points to the "incessant trampling of the forest floor by visitors" which "precludes the possibility of its regeneration." [Mikesell, p.27]
The existing forests scattered about at higher elevations are a consequence of accessibility and modern forms of protection. "Indeed, several of the remnant stands of cedar...can be described as sacred groves. Chapels have been built in the stands...and the forests...are under the protection of the Maronite patriarch. The
quasi-sacredness of the trees in these stands is indicated by the modern Lebanese reference to them as "cedars of the Lord."
[Mikesell, p.27] Reforestation efforts will be ineffective, however, unless rural economic reform takes place. Use of wood as charcoals and fuel, as well as goat herding will have to cease. Mikesell surmises that even with successful reforestation efforts, "The barren slopes of the Levantine mountains will continue to offer dramatic evidence of the use and misuse of a resource that was once described as the 'glory of Lebanon'." [Mikesell, p.28 (citing Isaiah, lx.13)] It is unlikely, therefore, that the much heralded cedars of antiquity will return to their plentiful state.
Known to the Lebanese as Arz ar-Rab (the Cedars of the Lord), some of the remaining 400 trees are over 1500 years old. It is believed that some of them even date back to the time when King Solomon had a part of the forest cut down to build his temple in Jerusalem (al-Qods). The Cedar tree, majestic and indestructible, today is the emblem of Lebanon and adorns its flag.
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13. D. S. Walker. The Mediterranean Lands (Methuen & Co.: London, 1962).