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A red-roofed town set among the eastern foothills of Mount Sannine, Zahle enjoys a prime location in the Beqaa valley. Snowcapped mountains tower above it in winter, while in summer its 945 meter elevation keeps air light and dry. The city center spreads along both banks of the Bardouni River, with the older section of town on the upper elevations of the west bank and the shopping district on the east bank. At the northern end of town is the Bardouni River valley known as Wadi-el-Aarayeh (Grape Wine Valley) - the site of Zahle's famous outdoor restaurants. Zahle Styles itself " The city of Wine and Poetry ", and with good reason. In this century alone some 50 poets and writers were born here and almost as many excellent wines and araks have been produced in the area. The romance of wine and poetry is balanced by Zahle's more business like position as the administrative and commercial capital of the Beqaa valley (42.27% of Lebanon territory) as well as its rank as the country's third largest city (population 150,000). Zahle is also an agricultural town which produces vegetables, fruit, grains, and most importantly grapes.
Tucked away from Lebanon's busy coastal centers, the people of Zahle have developed their own brand of individualism and way of doing things. Even their spoken Arabic has a particular flair. The city's reputation for intellectual vigor comes from a long line of writers, thinkers and poets who have contributed to Lebanon's cultural and political scene.
Zahle was founded about 300 years ago in an area whose past reaches back some five millennia. In the early 18th century the new town was divided into three separate quarters, each of which had its own governor. The city enjoyed a brief period as the region's first independent state in the 19th century when it had its own flag and anthem. Zahle was burned in 1777 and 1791, and it was burned and plundered in 1860. But during the rule of the Mutasarrifiah, Zahle began to region its prosperity. The railroad line which came through in 1885 improved commerce and the town became the internal "port" of the Beqaa and Syria. It was also the center of agriculture and trade between Beirut and Damascus , Mosul and Baghdad. Considered the birthplace of the Lebanese army, Zahle ha splayed a major role in the political life of the country.
Zahle association with the grape is pervasive, for it lies at the heart of an area that has been making wine since early antiquity. At the city's southern entrance the statue of a graceful female personifies wine and poetry, but you don't have to look far to see evidence of the real thing. The hills north of town with names like Wadi Hasi, HArqat, Bir Ghazour and Tell Zeina are covered with the neat rows of vineyards that supply Zahle's wine and arak industries. Many of the wines have been formally recognized abroad for their fine quality-equal to some of the best in Europe. A tour of Zahle's Ksara winery is a good way to see how wine and arak are made. Of special interest here are the extensive underground caves build around a natural grotto known and enlarged by the Romans.
Each year between the 10th and 20th of September Zahle mounts its week-long " Festival of the Vine", a celebration shared with the city's "Flower Festival". In a carnival-like atmosphere "Miss Vine" is eletced and cars are decorated with flowers representing national symbols. Zahle is also famous for its Corpus- Christi festival which dates back to 1825 when the town was spared the ravages of a contagious disease. Corpus-Christi is celebrated on the first Thursday of June with a torch-light parade held on the eve of the festival. The next morning a mass takes place at Our Lady of Najat Church, followed by a procession of townspeople carrying the "Holy Bread" through the streets.
All amenities are available in Zahle, which has plenty of good shopping and souvenir shops. There are 12 working hotels, numerous restaurant and cafes, plus recreational centers, night clubs and cinemas. Sixteen banks do business in this commercial center in addition to insurance and currency exchange companies. Zahle's Tourism Office, a part of the Ministry of Tourism, has offices on the third floor of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture building. Fifty-four kilometers separate Beirut from Zahle going via Sofar and Chtaura. A slightly longer route is by way of Dhour ech-Choueir in Mount Lebanon. Both roads bring you to the south end of town.