Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cedars of the Lord

Towering cedar trees once shaded the whole of Mount Lebanon, according to the ancient sources. But, a parade of ancient civilizations -- Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Phoenicia, Egypt, Israel, Rome, Byzantium -- exploited the trees, finding the long, straight timber suitable for building ships and temples.

Today, old-growth cedars number just a few hundred, and are concentrated in two areas. Above Kadisha Valley in the north, Arz al-Rab, or Cedars of the Lord, more than 6,000 feet above sea level, were first protected by Queen Victoria, who ordered a wall built around them in 1876. Scientists estimate that 12 of the cedars there are more than 1,000 years old. They are also large in girth, as demonstrated by this guy (my dad).

The cedar is exploited these days by competing Lebanese political interests, which drape themselves in the Lebanese flag, emblazoned with the image of Lebanon's national tree.