Beirut is only 127 kilometers, (80 miles), from Damascus and the border at Mazra’a in Lebanon was busy with cars and buses disgorging hundreds of people traveling in both directions. There is a degree of tension between the two countries, Syria is larger and more powerful and it was only in the wake of the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri almost two years ago, and the subsequent international outcry, that the Syrian army finally left Lebanon where they had been since the time of the country’s civil war. Since then there have been more assassinations or attempted assassinations of politicians and jourmalists all of whom were ‘anti-Syrian’. Needless to say cars with Syrian plates travel less frequently across the border these days. Not far from the border I got my first look at the damage done by Israel’s recent bombing; the highest bridge in the Middle East was in tatters, a huge central section blown away and twisted rebar dangling like black spaghetti against the blue sky.
Not going anywhere.
Peeling off the highway, we drove off in the direction of Karak Nuh, a small town near Zahle. Ibn Battuta traveled there from Beirut;
“We made an excursion from Beirut to visit the tomb of Abu Ya’qub Yusuf, who, they say, was one of the kings of the Maghrib. The tomb is at a place called Karak Nuh in the Biqa’ al-Aziz, and by it is a religious house at which food is provided for all who come and go.”
Karak Nuh gets its name from Noah’s tomb which is next to an old Mosque and is a site of pilgrimage for both Muslims and Christians. The tomb, like that of Daniel in Samarkand in Uzbekistan, is enormously long - 42 meters (138 feet) and despite this he was buried with his knees bent...... Quite why Ibn Battuta does not mentiont this astonishing story is not clear. Nor is the story of the tomb of Abu Yaqub Yusuf who was indeed Moroccan (Maghreb in Arabic) and died in Portugal so if he was buried here, nobody now remembers. We asked all available old people in the village and nobody had heard of the man......