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Lebanon (Assyr. Labn nu ; Hebrew Lebanôn ; Egypt. possibly, Ramunu ; Greek Libanos ), modern Jebel Libnân , or "White Mountain" ( Semitic root laban ), so called from the snow which covers the highest peaks during almost the entire year, or from the limestone which glistens white in the distance.
The centre of the great mountain range of Central Syria, which stretches from N.N.E. to S.S.W. almost parallel with the sea for about 95 miles from 33°20' to 34°40' is separated in the south by the Qâsimiye from the Galilean hill-country; in the north, by the Nahr el-Keb r from Jebel el-Ansarieh. It consists of two parallel mountain chains of the same formation: the western, or Lebanon proper, called Jebel el-gharbi; the eastern, known as Jebel el-sharqi (the Antilibanus of the Greeks). The primeval mass was cleft asunder towards the end of the Tertiary formation (Pliocene), forming the northern part of the Jordan fissure, which extends southward to the Red Sea. Geologically there are four strata, which are easily distinguishable in the deeply rent ravines. The first stratum, consisting of a layer of limestone (Araya limestone), about 980 feet in thickness, is sparingly strewn with fossils ( cidaris glandaria , corals and sponges), and belongs to the Cenoman, earliest of the Upper Jura. Above it lies a richly fossilized composite (Cephalopoda) of sandstone, from 650 to 1630 feet in thickness, and clay marl divided by layers of chalky deposit (Trigonia or Nubian sandstone) from the Cenoman. Basaltic masses of lava appear in the sandstone. Peat, iron ore, and traces of copper are also found, and fossilized resin in the coal schists. The third layer of Lebanon limestone (about 3580 feet thick) is characterized at the base by abundant oyster beds or by hippurite limestone (Cenoman-Turon). One peculiarity is the slate of Hakel, containing fossil fishes, found also in the marly limestone of Sâhil Alma. In Antilibanus (the Beq&aacirc;'a), and on the outer edges of Lebanon, a fourth stratum of Senonian (not over 330 feet in thickness) appears in flinty chalk and limestone.
The highest peaks of these mountains are in the Western chain. They rise in the Arz Libnân to a height of more than 9800 feet, as Dahr el-Qodib; Jebel Makmal; Dahr el-Dubab (Qarn Sauda), about 10,000 feet. Exact measurements are wanting. Towards the south the elevation is not so great: Jebel-el Muneitira, 9130; Jebel Sannin, 8500 feet. In Antilibanus the Tala` at Mûsa is 8710 feet in height; Hermon, 9300. Deposits due to glacier formations may be observed at the top, but no one has as yet reached the actual snow line. Between Lebanon and Antilibanus extends the table-land of Beqâ'a, 5 to 9 miles broad, about 70 miles long, never rising to any height, considered by many the true Coelig;lesyria. The plain of Lebanon (D.V. Libanus) mentioned in Jos., xi, 17, and xii, 7, is probably Merj 'Aiyun. The southern and central parts are very fertile today. Near Ba albek is the watershed (about 3800 feet) between south and north, between the Nahr el-`Asi (Orontes) and the Nahr el-Lîtâni (not the Leontes), which latter as Nahr el-Qâsimiye empties into the sea a little to the north of Tyre. The western slope of Lebanon has many springs and rivers which pierce the limestone after a partly subterranean course, e.g. the Nahr el-Kelb. From south to north we come in succession to the Nahr el-Zaherâni; Nahr el-'Awali; Nahr Dâmûr (Tamyras); Nahr Beirut (Magoras); Nahr el-Kelb (Lykus), at the mouth of which Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, and Latin inscriptions are found; Nahr Ibrâhîm (Adonis), at whose source was Afga (Apheka), the celebrated temple of Venus with its lewd and bloody cult, destroyed by Constantine; finally the Nahr el-Joz, and Nahr Qadîsha. The eastern slope and the Antilibanus are less favoured. In the north and east of Antilibanus there is great scarcity of water. Towards the south there are a few tributaries of the Lîtâni, chiefly the celebrated Baradâ, the river of Damascus (with `Ain Fîje), the Abana of Holy Writ ( 2 Kings 5:12 ). Hermon feeds the three sources of the Jordan.
The vicinity of the sea causes proportionate dampness and warmth on the western side. The mountains are frequented as summer resorts on account of their agreeable climate, In the Beqâ`a the winter is apt to be sharp. During severe winters the snow descends to the most outlying spurs of the Lebanon. Along the coast, frost is unusual. In October the rainy season ushers itself in with sudden and violent showers. From December until February there are, on an average, twelve rainy days. In May rain is infrequent. The effects of the rainstorms, which are frequently of tropical violence and accompanied by thunder and lightning, are seen in the excessive erosion of the valleys.
The natural bridges are also the result of erosion, for instance those of Âqûra and Jisr el-Hajar (with a span of about 130 feet; more than 65 over the Neba` el-Leben). In the western region, where water is plentiful, the flora is abundant and of great variety. In prehistoric times the entire range as far as the coast was covered with forests. According to the Old Testament and profane literature, the Lebanon was renowned for its abundance of wood. Cedar, pine, maple, linden, and oak made the possession of the mountains lucrative. Solomon and Hiram, Egyptian and Assyrian, profited by these resources. To-day, through senseless plunder and the progress of cultivation, Lebanon has been largely robbed of its ancient splendour. Cedar is found in but few places, although all the climatic conditions for a successful growth are at hand.
Large tracts are now used for cultivating plants; and olive, fig, and mulberry trees constitute the wealth of today. Pomegranate, peach, apricot (in Damascus and vicinity), almond trees, walnuts, quinces, and other varieties of fruit flourish. The grape ripens at an altitude of nearly 5000 feet. The cultivation of the vine has developed advantageously. Grain flourishes at an altitude of 6200 feet, but, is little cultivated. A number of sweet-scented shrubs deserve mention: myrtle, oleander, sage, lavender, etc., to which fragrant plants the Old Testament attributes part of the fame of Lebanon. On the west, in general, the flora of the Mediterranean is found, and, on the heights, Alpine flora. On the eastern slope, in northern Beqâ'a and in Antilibanus, with their dry, severe climate, the flora is that of the steppes.
The prehistoric fauna was very different from that of today; stag, deer, bison, the wild horse, wild boar, lynx, lion, bear, and wild goat inhabited the forests. As remotely as Assyrian and Babylonian times, Lebanon was celebrated as a royal hunting-ground. To-day the number of deer is greatly diminished; bears, wolves, and panthers are rare. Hyenas, jackals, and wild boars are more frequent. The birds are not as well represented. Songsters are rare. Wild doves rock ptarmigan, eagles, and hawks are more often found. Reptiles are fairly numerous. Serpents, often venomous, abound, and also lizards (chameleon, gecko).
Traces of human occupation are found, dating from prehistoric times. Not only from the mouth of the Qâsimiye to Tripolis, but also in the mountains and in Beq a, genuine neolithic and pal olithic remains have been discovered. Broken human bones suggest the cannibalism of the aborigines. In historic times the Amorrhites appeared, whilst in the period of the Israelite kings the Phoenicians exercised dominion over the Lebanon, and Solomon had buildings erected there ( 1 Kings 5:6 sqq. ; 9:19 ). Later the Ituræans occupied Lebanon, and in Christian times the Maronites. The bloody persecutions of 1860 resulted in some improvement in the condition of part of the country, chiefly through the interference of France. The independent province of Lebanon has a Christian governor named by the sultan and approved by the Powers. Beteddîn, near Der el-Qamar, is the seat of government.
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The inhabitants in 1900 numbered about 400,000; the greater part are Catholic Maronites ; about 8 per cent, Greek Uniats; 13 per cent, Orthodox Greeks; 12 per cent, Druzes ; 4 per cent, Shiite Metawiles; 3 per cent, Sunnites. The spirit of travel has seized the Maronites, who seek profit in Egypt, the United States, or in Latin America, returning later to their mountains. Ecclesiastically, the Maronites are subject to a patriarch who lives in the monastery of Qannobin. Numerous convents, some of them wealthy, are scattered over the hills; they maintain schools and have set up printing-presses. Higher instruction is given chiefly by European priests, but those of native birth take an active part. The American Protestant missions have long since entered into competition. For the education of the girls, native teaching sisters (Mariamettes) arc employed jointly with Europeans.
In times of peace the Christian administration has obtained good results. Safety and order have been established, and a great deal has been done for commerce. The high road from Beirut to Damascus (about 70 miles) was built in 1862, and other roads later, e.g. that following the coast, that from Beirut to Jezzîn, from Jezzîn to Saida, etc. In 1895 the first railroad was opened from Beirut to Damascus (90 miles), which in Lebanon reaches an elevation of 4850 feet, and in Antilibanus 4570 feet. The branch line from Rayâq to Haleb was opened in 1906. Further plans are being considered, principally for a better connection with Beqâ`a.
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