Harissa is a municipality in Lebanon that hosts the location of one of the important pilgrimage sites for Christians in the Middle East, Our Lady of Lebanon.
It is located north of Beirut (the capital city of Lebanon) and it is easy access by bus or car. Around 55% of the citizens are Christians and 45% is muslim, this is a fact that determines their government, politics, laws (specially the ones related to civil and family affairs), and life traditions.
The altitude changes quite a bit as the Virgin of Lebanon was placed on the top of a mountain with a special pedestal. You can not imagine the splendid panorama from this sight! Tourists do not want to miss this excursion that starts with a drop off close to the basilica at the doors of the statue site (Pope John Paul VI visited this basilica in an official visit to Lebanon in the 90’s).
After spending an hour walking up the stairs to the Lady of Lebanon, there is an optional gondola lift 10 feet away with a 20-minute ride and a spectacular view of Jounieh, a very congested city in Lebanon and one of the worst traffic jams I have ever seen.
Upon my arrival, I ran to the top of the stairs where the virgin is looking down on the land. It is a statue made in France and was brought to Lebanon in pieces given that its weight is 15 tons of bronze.
Promptly when I arrived, I saw many buses with tourists behind me, so I knew it was going to get crowded pretty soon. I took a few pics of the virgin, and of Jounieh—the city seen from the virgin’s pedestal.
Interestingly, most of the people I talked to were praying for a miracle from the virgin or thanking her for a miracle in the past, or offering to her some future sacrifice if their wishes and hopes come true.
Once I took the pics I ran to the gondola lift—which they call Téléphérique(all the French influence)— and hopped in for a fun jaunt. Each box of the gondola fits 4 people and it is smaller than the photobooths in the malls in America, and I would certainly not ride it when there is too much wind. Also, my tragic personality was hoping all the time not to have one of those earthquakes that shake Lebanon once in a while… what a sabotage on my part!
If at some point you are interested in going to Lebanon, contact me. This trip can be done in one day and there is no need to shop an excursion for it.
One thing super common to do for foreigners in Lebanon is to rent a car and drive around, knowing of course to stop at the military points whether they stop you or not. It is always better to stop and salute the guard with an as-salam w alaikum. This trip and Byblos can be done in one day with a stop somewhere in between for a good lunch in front of the Mediterranean.
I am enjoying the welcoming spirit of the Arabs of this region and I am learning from a lot from them. They would never throw you out or make you feel uncomfortable (not even if they do not like you) because hospitality is in their Arabic pride and they do not want to be seen as impolite.
The CAMES program at the American University of Beirut invited us for lunch. Throughout the lunch I counted around 22 different dishes being served in extravagant and abundant quantities. There was fish, meat, chicken, seafood, potatoes, salads, vegetables, sweets, fruits, coffee, juices, water, and arak (I will tell you about this later).
I am going to Frankfurt this weekend for my best friend’s wedding and I will tell you about the sites I visit upon return to Beirut.
I gotta go, I have a lottt of homework to get done before I leave.
Enjoy the gallery of pics below.