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Ras al-Qalaat promontory / Ras Al Natour promontory / Ras el-Mlelih Promontory

Date of Submission: 11/07/2019
Criteria: (iii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Lebanon to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Kurah district, Anfeh-Harishi
Coordinates: N34 21 0 E35 44 0
Ref.: 6438

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Anfeh is on the coast of Northern Lebanon and is located 15 km south of Tripoli and 71 km north of Beirut. The town is extended to the west by a 400 meter promontory called Ras al-Qalaat, oriented on an east–west axis, to the North by Ras Al Natour promontory in Hraishi which is home to salt and olive fields and to the South by Ras el-Mlelih promontory home to the most ancient salt marshes which are natural cavities enlarged by humans throughout the centuries. The ponds also provide a productive resting and feeding ground for many species of water birds, which include endangered species.

Anfeh’s geological information is quite unique for the Quaternary and Holocene times; it records the marine pulses over a segment of the growing mountainous land at the meeting point between land and sea. Moreover, Anfeh’s coastline preserves caves, vermetid platforms and sea grass. Twenty seven marine habitats have been identified on the littoral fringe, granting it ecological diversity. Indeed, the site is home to 650 species of sea and littoral plants and 950 species of marine animals ranging from fish, marine mammals, crustaceans, reptiles to name but a few.

Throughout the centuries, the main socio-economic practices of the maritime communities of Anfeh were intertwined with angling and commercial fishing and salt extraction, along with agrarian practices such as wine production since the Byzantine era (5th. A.D.) which were replaced by olive oil production under the Ottoman rule. One of the waning maritime social practices is salt production. Indeed, salt was traditionally considered as the “white gold” of Anfeh and used to be a major source of financial income for the local community. Today, however, the coastline of Lebanon is exceedingly devoured by mass tourism and its unsustainable encroachment on the maritime domain.Touristic resorts are privatizing the access to the sea and increasing the environmental destruction and the cultural impoverishment of the coast.

Hence, it is crucial to safeguard one of the few remaining sites which combines both natural and cultural heritage (tangible and intangible) in one site: Anfeh and its natural extension, Hraishi. Therefore, following the relentless efforts and eagerness to promote, value and develop sustainability, on September 22, 2017, the municipal council of Anfeh signed the HIMA accord with the SPNL (Association for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon). "Hima" in Arabic means "protected place" according to a traditional indigenous system of management and conservation of biodiversity and natural and cultural resources.  This accord will help the implementation of mitigation schemes for the conservation of both Nature and Culture and their integration into ecotourism projects for a positive impact on a low-income area with a rich and diverse heritage. Hence, recognizing the fundamental role of cultural heritage and landscape for sustainable local development and highlighting the opportunity of adapting Heritage to the present needs of society and symbolizing the triumph of the human spirit and of democracy over oppression and enslavement to the unsustainable consumerism model.

Site 1: "Ras al Mleliḥ" promontory is a 10,000m² coastal area located at the southern extremity of the town of Anfeh; it stands for “Cape of Salinas” and carries the most ancient salt ponds of Anfeh. They consisted originally of natural rock cavities used as salt pans possibly since the Phoenician period. Since the 14th century, the locals used to expand those cavities by digging, here and there, carving small channels, which are still visible in the rock, to bring sea water to the salt pans. Sometimes, a small canal was dug between two salt pans, thus creating communicating saltmarshes. The task of filling these channels using wooden buckets was carried out by women and children. During the Ottoman rule, authorities had banned the local production of the salt, but that didn’t stop villagers from filling out their jars with sea waters after making sure no one had seen them, and then walking home along the river, as if they were carrying fresh water.  In the 1940s, pumping sea water is facilitated through the introduction of wind mills made out of a rudimentary four-part wooden wheel, run manually and positioned according to prevailing winds. Fast enough though, they were replaced by mills made out of six or eight metal shutters. It is an inexpensive, simple and ecological production technique which has become, to this day, an integral part of the organically evolving salt-landscape of Anfeh.

Site 2: Ras al-Qalaat promontory is 400 meters long and 120 meters wide (33 000 m²), oriented on an east-west axis and Standing about 14 m above sea level, the site has visible Greco-Roman and Medieval remains everywhere. Basins, vaults, presses, tanks, and quarry pipes all hewn into the bedrock as well as remains of mosaic pavements. The still visible vestiges attest to continuous human activity at Anfeh and are protected by salt marshes, now abandoned, which used to be highly productive during the XXth. century. 

Archaeological investigations have identified four major occupation levels underneath the salt pans dating back to the Chalcolithic Period which is evidenced by two funerary jars uncovered in situ at the western end of the promontory. This predates the conventional Late Bronze Age occupation phase of Anfeh which was previously known from the 14th century BC Tell El Amarna letters. In these letters, Anfeh is traditionally identified with Ampi and is mentioned six times. In his correspondence with the Pharaoh, the king of Byblos Rib-Addi, who was a faithful subject of the Amarna court, mentions the fleet of Ampi, telling the Egyptian monarch that the enemy ships of Arwad have reached the city and are “stationed” in its waters. 

The third occupation level of the site goes back to the Late Byzantine period where a strong religious presence is represented by a cluster of religious spaces in the town of Anfeh and on the promontory of Ras al-Qalaat, where new evidence of wine presses dating back to the Byzantine era have been unveiled.

The fourth chronological evidence dates back to the Crusaders’ period, when Anfeh was known under the name of Nephin and later during the Mameluke period as Anafah. It was a well-fortified village famous for its wines also traditionally known as “the Citadel”. That was confirmed by recent excavations conducted on Ras al-Qalaat. These have uncovered parts of the medieval fortress’ pavement, among other structures. The peninsular fortress was cut off from the rest of the village by two moats. The German traveler Burchard of Mount Sion described the citadel after his visit to the region in 1283 AD as: “equipped with twelve towers with its feet in the water”.  Several ramps which are still intact today provide access to the water directly, facilitating transportation of wine jars maybe to a nearby harbor or anchorage.

Ras al-Qalaat  illustrates evidently how the exceptional natural feature of a narrow promontory was transformed across millennia, dug out, carved out, sculpted in order to host a variety of evolving functions: for habitation, burials, trade, wine and olive oil production, religious purpose or military defense.

Site 3: Deir al-Natour promontory is an area of 1,000,000m² of the largest salt marshes, which are producing a high quality of “fleur de sel”. An ethnographic campaign conducted around the traditional practices of salt production has identified 11 salt producers who are still active today. Nevertheless, all of the inhabitants reported hoping to jumpstart their salt production, if a market was secured.

The remaining abandoned salt marches present a desolate scene, but luckily, they have preserved the archaeological layers underneath and they have turned into a safe haven for migrating birds. All these saltmarshes, which constitute the largest concentration of salt pads in the country and possibly in the Middle-East, cluster around a historical monastery called the Deir al-Natour Monastery, which literally means “the Monastery of the Watchman”, built by the Crusaders on Byzantine ruins, before being enlarged and renovated in the Ottoman era. It is surrounded by a unique natural landscape composed of limestone terraces and eroded boulders colonized by vivid halophyte plants, bushes, weeds and mosses, including fields of myrtle (Myrtus Ugni), a nearly extinct plant on the Lebanese coast. The monastery is a major pilgrimage site that confers to the site a strong spiritual dimension, which is in turn dependent on the pristine, natural and productive environment that fosters it.

Thus, the cohabitation of the historical building and the cultural landscape/seascape and coastscape form a unique and remarkable environment which needs to be classified along with the intangible ancestral know-how of salt harvest. This collusion of natural, cultural, religious and intangible heritage was recognized by several official urban planning documents and ministerial assessments which all identify the Ras el-Natour Peninsula as a place to preserve and a potential natural reserve, including: the Masterplan for the Development of Lebanese Territory, the Masterplan of North Lebanon’s Coastline and the Lebanon Marine Protected Area Strategy Report.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Ras al-Qalaat promontory / Ras Al Natour promontory / Ras el-Mlelih Promontory are a series of 3 sites located in the village of Anfeh and in the adjacent coastal fields of Hraishi.  All 3 of them host exceptional cultural and natural landscapes as they each reveal a unique cohabitation of natural and cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. Their most remarkable features is the prominence of salt fields, some of the oldest in the Mediterranean and the last artisanal salt production in Lebanon. They bear witness to spatial planning, land-use, and sea-use throughout the centuries as well as to archaeological features that span over 8000 years. They reveal important lessons from our ancestors: perfect adaptation to their environment, intelligent use of local resources, living in harmony with and respectful of nature, skilful use of tools and true artistic creations especially when these traditions have become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible changes caused by human greed and unsustainable economic models and urban development.

All three selected sites represent cultural landscapes designed and created intentionally by people as well as organically evolved landscapes.

Criterion (iii): The serial property and its components bear an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of salt extraction throughout the centuries. These cultural traditions have, over a long period of time, defined a way of life in a geo-cultural region. The traditions of salt extraction are still living and vibrant today in two of the sites, namely Ras El Mlelih promontory and Deir al-Natour promontory but have atrophied in the Ras al-Qalaat promontory. The traditions correspond to ways of building and spatial planning. They are intangible since they bear witness to a “know how”  which is slowly disappearing nowadays, but carry precise tangible results as well since they affect the social economic well-being of entire communities. 

 Criterion (v):  The serial property and its components represent an outstanding example of a traditional human sea-use settlement, which is representative of a culture and human interaction with the environment that has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Ras al-Qalaat promontory

Historical and archaeological evidence as well as ethnographical practices have testified to the intrinsic human occupation of the promontory for over 8000 years and to land use changes throughout time. The promontory was covered by salt marshes during the twentieth century.  These salt ponds have obviously covered many ancient vestiges, but luckily have protected them as well.

The management of the promontory has the challenge of addressing a complex layering of values arising from changing usage over time. The property has been:

  • a habitat for early settlers during the chalcolithic period;
  • a space used for wine production with over 10 presses inventoried so far on the promontory alone during the Byzantine era;
  • The crusades have perpetuated the wine production throughout the medieval times until Nephin became well known for its famous wines and exports;
  • Ottomans’ belief system have transformed the vineyards of the hinterlands of Anfeh into olive groves;
  • Salt harvesting using traditional methods has survived throughout the centuries despite Ottoman ban on local production.

Deir al-Natour promontory

According to the Crusader document, the Monastery of Deir al-Natour was most probably built by the Cistercians. Indeed, the Church interior resembles that of the Cistercian Church of Our Lady of Balamand, built in 1157. Otherwise, the history of Deir al-Natour remains obscure, although it is said that the local Orthodox community took it over after the departure of the Crusaders. Its name is almost unmentioned by historical sources during the Mameluke and most of the Ottoman period.

In 1838, the Ottoman authorities gave permission for the Monastery to be rebuilt. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it contained several monks and a superior, and it possessed fifteen dunums of land. During the First World War, it was bombarded by a Russian ship. A few years later, the Monastery lost its last Superior, Basilios Debs, who  became Archbishop of Akkar. After his departure, monastic life ended at Deir al-Natour. Since the 1900’s, the entire territory surrounding Deir al-Natour was turned into highly productive salt fields which have contributed largely to the “white gold” production of Anfeh.

During the lebanese civil war, the deserted monastery became a refuge for shepherds from the neighboring regions. In 1973, Sister Catherine al-Jamal moved to Deir al-Natour and began to restore it.

Comparison with other similar properties

The serial-inscription of the here proposed sites would make them the first cultural landscape related to sea-salt harvesting to integrate UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This nomination is one of the very few nominations that include an economic form of sea-use since the addition of sea-use to criterion (v) in 2005.

Several sites related to salt production are inscribed on the World Heritage List such as the “Great Saltworks of Salins-les-Bains and the Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans” in France (Ref 203 bis), as well as the “Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines” in Poland (Ref 32 ter). Although they demonstrate Outstanding universal value in terms of the extent of the chronological timeframe during which the extraction of salt continued from the Middle Ages through to the 20th century, these sites are not related to sea-salt production, since the saltworks in Salins-les-Bains and Arc-et-Senans are based on a technique of tapping sources of salt deep underground and the use of fire to evaporate the brine, while the Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines illustrate the historic stages of the development of mining techniques in Europe from the 13th to the 20th centuries.

The Tentative list includes few sites related to sea-salt harvesting such as “Les marais salants de Guérande” in France, which bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of salt extraction throughout the centuries and the “Roman Production Centre of Fish Salting and Conservation in Tróia”, Portugal. But both sites are representative of sea-use settlements on the Atlantic ocean shoreline of western Europe, while Anfeh bears the natural and cultural specificities of eastern mediterranean coastal environments.

 The proposed Anfeh site holds unique caracteristics but can be comparable to other cultural landscapes:

  • The “Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy” in Bahrain (Ref 1364 rev) is an ensemble of urban properties, fort, seashore and oyster beds is an exceptional testimony to the final flourishing of the cultural tradition of pearling which dominated the Persian Gulf between the 2nd and early 20th centuries. Although the pearling industry has died, these sites carry the memory of its prosperity and the building traditions that it fostered. In the same way, the salt harvesting in Anfeh represents an outstanding example of a traditional human sea-use settlement, which is representative of a culture and human interaction with the environment that has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
  • The “Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir” (Ref 1492) is a landscape of valleys that have been reshaped across centuries in order to adapt them to agriculture and specifically to plant grapevines and olive trees, which are fed with complex and unique communal irriguation networks. In the same way, Anfeh shows how the landscape was reshaped in order to adapt it to salt harvesting, progressively evolving towards better efficiency: from the natural pools on the coastline fed with buckets carried by women and children, to the countless hectares of artificial basins fed with windmills pushing sea water through elaborate canals.
  • The Rice Terraces of the Philippines Cordelliras (Ref 1111) are composed of water-filled rice basins which have turned the montain sides into an infinite set of curvilinear shapes that adapt finely to the topography. In the same way, though on a much smaller scale, the salt-landscape of Anfeh is composed of geometric shapes that have abstracted the terrain and topography. But here, this is done in endless grids of rectangular basins that spread either on flat land in a regular fashion, or that shift and distort on the many man-made or natural terraces which cascade down the limestone cliffs dropping into the sea.

The presence of a monastery on Deir al-Natour, which is a major pilgrimage site, conveys to the site a spiritual dimension which is in turn heavily dependent on the seclusion and isolation of the building within a wide and preserved natural coastal landscape. Many monasteries on the World Heritage List  show this strong interrelation between landscape and monastic activities. But more particularly:

  • The “Ouadi Qadisha and the Forest of the Cedars of God” (Ref 850) is a landscape caracterised by extremely rugged valleys, in the depth of which monasteries have found refuge, benefiting from the spiritual charge and isolation of the overwhelming landscape, while shaping much of the cliffsides in order to allow for agriculture. In the same way, the Deir al-Natour monastery spiritual charge in inseperable of its direct natural environement in which it is the only standing building, on top of limestone cliffs dropping into the sea, surrounded only by saltmarshes and by a rare seaside vegetation and fields of wild myrtle. It is the only monastery in Lebanon to enjoy such a position on the coast, and such a close spiritual relationship to the sea.

The Ras al-Qalaat promontory is exceptional because it has been constantly occupied over more than 8000 years of history with no or few periods of abandonment, and is a lively testimony of all of these successive occupations and civilizations. It is also an exceptional natural feature, a long and narrow rock jutting into the sea, which has been continuously reshaped in order to host different functions and uses. It finds some similarities with the following sites:

  • The “Archaeological Site of Troy” (Ref 849) is a testimony of thousands of years of history and has retained vestiges of all of the civilizations that have occurred successively, while being one of the most famous sites in the world because of it being the main scene of Homer’s Illiad. Though less famous, Anfeh is also mentionned in ancient texts since the 14th century BC in the Amarna Letters. Even the name itself of the settlement has remained mostly unchanged across history and in all languages, retaining the original root of “ANF” which means “nose” in semitic languages, a reference to the promontory’s “jutting” shape: from ANF (original Semitic), Anpa (Assyrian), Ampi (Egyptian), Nephin (French), Anafah (Mameluk), down to Anfeh (Arabic). Just like in the case of Troy, it retains visible occupation levels that testify of all sucessive civilizations. These span from the Chalcolithic down to the present, going through the Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Mameluk, and Ottoman periods.