I have visited so many breath-taking places in Lebanon, the land of exceptional beauty and history.
Some of the places I visited were extraordinary, leaving me wonder about this small country and its contents. Amongst all these wonderful places in Lebanon there was one place that left a mark in my heart, it was one unforgettable experience that I would love to repeat again. Some might say there is nothing special about it but for me it was a very special visit.
== Virgin Mary is Our Lady of Lebanon! ==
Virgin Mary and Jesus hold a special place in the Lebanese people's hearts and souls which is why such a small country has well over 3000 churches, chapels and shrines all devoted for Virgin Mary .
Mary and her son Jesus had visited Lebanon. Virgin Mary waited for her son in a small town named Harrisa, 25 miles north of Beirut, while he went to Sidon and Tyre in the south of Lebanon. This place became the holy place and this spot was blessed by Mary's visit.
Lebanon as a country made a special dedication to Virgin Mary, who was loved and respected by Christians, Druz and Muslims, by building a church in 1908 named after Virgin Mary in Harissa on the spot where Virgin Mary was, in addition to a statue made in the honour of Virgin Mary. It was made specially to accomplish the finishing Basilica. The statue was made by the French in the 20th century specifically in 1908.
== Our Lady of Lebanon (Notre Dame du Liban) ==
Most people prefer to call it Our Lady of Lebanon or the Lady of Lebanon. The statue was designed by French architect Gio and it was crafted in Lyon, France. It is made out of solid bronze and painted in white. This extremely heavy statue was placed on top of a stone base which was sturdy enough to hold its staggering weight of 20 tons. The height of the statue is 8.50m while its perimeter is 5.50m. The statue and the chapel were finished in 1908 and both are located on one of the most beautiful landscapes in Lebanon, on the highest hill in Harrisa which is about 650 meters (1,886 feet) above sea level overlooking the immaculate scene of Jounieh bay.
Harrisa is well-known for its religious importance; you see many chapels and churches surrounding the statue making it a really holy place and a major tourist and pilgrimage destination, for both Christians and non-Christians from all over the world.
The statue itself is a masterpiece. The statue is of Virgin Mary standing with open hands as if she is praying. The white statue of the Virgin is stood up proudly on the top of the hill and looks down to the pilgrims.
The base stone of the statue has a church named the mother of light referring to Mary. Outside and around the stone there is a long stone spiral staircase with sidebars to ensure the safety of the pilgrims leading to the top. What I mean by the top is just the end of her feet! And believe me it is a very long walk up the stairs!
== The Pope's visit ==
Pope John Paul II visited the shrine when he made an official visit to Lebanon on Saturday, 10th May 1997 in front of a multi-thousand crowd. The father lauded Lebanon and was astonished by the beautiful scenes of Jounieh Bay where he gave his blessing to Lebanon.
== How to get there ==
In Lebanon, Public transportation is very easy to get hold of and is very cheap in terms of fares. You can get there by using public transport or simply take a taxi. The cheapest option is by public transport, you only pay 1500 LP which is less than £1 and for more relaxing and convenient trip you may order a taxi for around £25 or maybe a bit more. But in both cases I can guarantee you that won't feel the time because you would be taken by the wonderful views and sceneries.
== My visit and my opinion ==
I first visited Harissa when I was a teenager back in the 90's and now after all these years, I revisited it but this time with my kids, in order to make them attached to their roots.
With my second visit I felt nothing changed apart from the weather really as my first visit was in winter and it was extremely cold but this time I picked the right time to visit Mary.
== Jesus Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro and His Mother Virgin Mary in Harissa, what a long distance! ==
I don't know what others think but I think that Our lady of Lebanon statue bares many similarities to Jesus Christ's statue (Christ the Redeemer) in Rio de Janeiro. Both of them are placed on top of a hill and both are made out of bronze, painted white and both of them have open hands! However our lady of Lebanon statue has something different about it, if you look closely you will find that Our Lady of Lebanon's cloak is shaped just like the cedar of Lebanon!
== Getting up the stairs and don't forget to wear a comfortable shoes ==
Yes, you need to wear comfortable shoes because the stairs are quite steep and it's a long time to get to the Virgin's feet! I counted them and so did my kids, as far as I know there are 112 steps while my boys said they are 110 so it can give you an idea about the distance you have to cover.
The steps are very wide, 10-12 people can walk side by side to get there. If you are not very fond of heights, you might feel dizzy when you look down so if you do suffer from this problem, I suggest you look straight ahead.
What I loved about my way up was the way the people were so dedicated. Some of them were holding the bible, some lit candles, my children and I did the former.
I was surprised to see a lot people climbing all these stairs just to be there on the top with Mary, I was stunned to see some elders, as well as some young ones
reach the very top barefoot with tears streaming down their faces.
Finally, after 30 minutes or so walking up the stairs and the candles nearly melted, we reached the end of the stairs and it was absolutely well worth it!
The panoramic view of the bay was mind-blowing; I just simply cannot describe the view. I was speechless and just watched the beautiful view quietly. It was nearly sunset, sun was behind the mountain, with the sunset fully reflecting down the bay; I felt relaxed and happy at that time.
== The Chapel , the mother of light ==
It's a small but amazing church which is located just under the statue. The chapel's entrance is quite unique and inside the chapel you can see the Crafted stones that were all crafted stone by stone by some devoted workers in the old rustic Lebanese architectural style. The chapel is tiny and it has only a handful of seats but the atmosphere is very spiritual. There are big, long stained glass windows which are wonderfully painted. The lights are humble and dim but they completed the urban look of the church.
There is also a small statue of Virgin Mary crafted from Lebanon's famous cedar wood, known as "God's Cedars." Also all the fixtures are made out of the same wood.
My boys and I entered the chapel as well and it was very crowded with pilgrims.
I recommend visiting the mother of light chapel; it is such a calming and spiritual place not for Christians only but for all visitors.
== Basilica ==
The idea of building a large church in the reservation of Our Lady of Lebanon was created back in the 60's. The Figure of the Basilica is a mixture of a Phoenician ship and a Lebanese cedar tree. It is on top of a mountain that oversees Jounieh and thanks to its structure and its dimensions it just stands out from a distance.
They are 67 meters wide, 115 meters long, while its dome rises 62 meters above the ground. It can comfortably seat up to 3500 people, all of whom can attend the original reservation of Our Lady of Lebanon. Since the 1980's, many religious rituals have been held in the Basilica, especially the holy month of Mary, during May including the visit of The Pope John-Paul II, who visited the Basilica on the 10th of May 1997.
== Cable cars or teleferique ==
The cable car can be an adventure on its own. Lebanon is so famous for its use of cable cars, especially in mountain places like Faria, Jeita and Harissa. Using the cable car in transportation is the easiest way to get from Jounieh to Harrisa. Get your camera ready because you will see the most breathtaking views you have ever seen in your life.
The cable car is quiet small; you can only get 4 people per "car" and the trip will take you about 15-20 minutes of unforgettable fun. To be honest, I was scared at the beginning and it took me a few minutes to adjust especially when I saw that a tiny cable car was passing through the steep mountains but thankfully it wasn't so fast so my stomach didn't lurch!
To be honest, I never ever thought Lebanon had these wonderful sceneries. The view was amazing, seeing the blue bay of Jounieh as smooth as a mirror and the old fashioned houses with brown bricks is a scene anyone would love to see .If it is not enough for your satisfaction there are cedar trees all over the place and that is the icing on top of a very tasty cake.
== Souvenir shop ==
The souvenir shop, or the gift shop, is a part of the "Our lady of Lebanon shrine". It sells a whole range of gifts for all occasions such as rosaries, statues of the Virgin Mary, big and small Bibles, crucifixes, the patron saint jewellery in addition to a wide range of books postcards. The gift shop opens daily, from Monday to Friday it opens from 9 am to 5 pm and on Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.
== Entrance fees ==
There is no entrance fee; however, you can always donate to the church any amount of money or buy from their souvenir shop. All of the profits go towards the maintenance of the church and the statue.
You only pay for the cable car transportation which is about £3 per person
== And finally ==
Harrisa is the most visited place in Lebanon, with over 3000 visitors a day however, the busiest time of the year is in May when this number duplicated.
As an appreciation, first Sunday in May has since been Our Lady of Lebanon's feast day and become a National Holiday in Lebanon.
Lebanon is a controversial country in every aspect however, Virgin Mary, who is admired by Christians and Muslims alike, provides unity amongst Lebanese people of every faith.
== Oh Our Lady of Lebanon ==
You have been there all the time, you've seen the bloodshed and war, you lived the sad and sorrow with us, you prayed for us , please pray for peace, peace in our hearts , peace in our land and peace throughout the world.