Tags: Lebanon; religion; war
Although the Lebanese have been quite capable of fighting themselves, much of the history of the place is about invaders. A bit north of Beirut is the Dog River. There is an old stone bridge over the river, and this is the site of a series of steles, erected over millennia, with inscriptions placed by a series of invaders. Rameses II of Egypt was the first to do this in the 13th century BCE, followed by Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, and others right up to 1946 when the withdrawing French colonial army marked their retreat. Each when they arrived thought they were there to stay, and each left – just as Israel and Syria, as well as the USA, have discovered in the modern era. The journalist, Robert Fisk, said that however well-meaning they started their occupation ‘Lebanon never rewarded its guests’.
Invaders, however, bring other things. The Crusaders in the Middle Ages when they set up a kingdom here brought wine with them (although it had probably never faded away, even under Islamic rule.) The Jesuit Fathers brought grapes. In the 1960s there was an invasion by French oenologists who brought with them new grapes from their homeland; quality varieties like cabernet, syrah, and merlot. These invaders supplanted the previous settlers from the south of France like cinsault and carignan. To my mind that invasion did no real benefit for wine production: the cinsaults and carignans (and grenaches) I’ve tasted this week seem more at home in an extreme climate (hot and dry but also mountainous and cooler) than their more aristocratic compatriots. The two most interesting wines I’ve had on the trip have been cinsaults – one from Domaine des Tourelles and the other at Chateau Musar.
However, the most successful invader of Lebanon – because unresisted (indeed, accepted by all communities) and now widespread – is Australian: its flora, to be precise, the gum trees and bottle brushes which abound except in the most remote places.