On a bright sunny day in October, I was surprised by a brisk wind as I stepped out of the car in the Jabal Moussa bioreserve. We walked along a pressed-dirt path to the start of the cultural trail and as I turned the corner, the valley opened up below me - gold dust, green leaves, white stone. It was almost dazzling under the direct sun and I had not even reached the first astonishing piece of cultural heritage along this ancient Roman Road in the middle of Lebanon, the small country located at the intersection of the Mediterranean sea routes and the Arabian Peninsula.
Jabal Moussa, roughly translated as Moses’ Mountain, and its surroundings were designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2009 as part of the Man and Biosphere (MAB) program. In the Man and Biosphere program, Jabal Moussa protection combines human livelihood improvement and nature conservation by integrating natural sciences with education in social science and economics. The mountain has exceptionally rich biodiversity with at least 728 flora species, 25 mammal species, and more than 137 migratory and soaring bird species. In 2012, the mountain was designated a Global Important Bird Area (IBA). And the valley of Nahr Ibrahim, also known as the Valley of Adonis, bordering Jabal Moussa to the North, is on the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Jabal Moussa’s location and biodiversity meant that it was an important path and crossroads for ancient human civilizations. Jabal Moussa and the Valley of Adonis contain evidence of human history starting from the Middle Paleolithic. According to Dr. Myrna Semaan Haber, a Fulbright Scholar who studies biodiversity and conservation, “All civilization times are depicted in the valley allowing a complete sequence of human history.” In 2015, Embassy Beirut was proud to grant funding from the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) to the Association for the Protection of Jabal Moussa to preserve and protect important cultural heritage within the bioreserve. On that day in October, I toured the site to prepare for the Ambassador’s inauguration of the newly developed cultural trail as the final step in the grant.