About thirty years ago, I visited for the first time the site of the temples of Sfiré. This ancient site is located in the north of the mountains of Lebanon, almost at the foot of their highest peak, but on a different slope from where the crests culminating at more than three thousand meters constitute a magnificent panorama under which the orchards of fruit trees, falling waterfalls and rolling torrents of snow. In Antiquity, this place, like all the summits of Lebanon, was crowned with temples, in accordance with a custom that wanted the highest points on Earth and therefore those closest to the sky to be dedicated to celebrating this rapprochement of residences. celestial and terrestrial. The first temples of Sfiré were therefore undoubtedly Phoenician, but those which remain are Roman. They are staged on three levels of the mountain. Seventy-five years ago, you had to take mule tracks to reach the village, then follow a winding path to the first two temples, the last remaining in a kind of haughty posture of near-inaccessibility. Thirty years ago, the first time I went there, the motorable road led to the village. We parked our car in a place from where the ascent was relatively marked up to the first two levels, before things got complicated to reach the last one, up there. The three buildings, however, remained in their isolation, draped in fog or offered to the limpid lights of the mountain summer.
A few years ago, when I returned there, I was amazed to discover that the modern village and its horrible dwellings made of concrete and breeze blocks had reached the edges of the first temple. As you climbed towards the second, however, you could no longer see the town or the ugliness disfiguring part of the site. But it is only when arriving at the level of the remains of the last monument that one could rediscover the impression of fabulous solitude, of proximity to the sky. I have not returned since, but I fear that this solitude is more and more threatened, and with it the grandiose beauty of the tete-a-tete of these temples with the sky and the surrounding peaks.
What the future of the Sfiré site demonstrates is obviously the gradual disappearance of the notion of isolation, and that of remoteness. This is almost a banality, as we know the end of the daydreams of ancient adventurers on the still virgin maps of the world, and so much today everything seems within reach. And so much we also know how much everything has become visible under the eyes of cameras in orbit around the Earth and spy satellites, or even Google Earth which puts every corner of the world before our eyes almost live. The fact remains that many places still remain unreachable and draped in their aura of mystery, many mountains, landscapes, lost sites are permanently the object of our powerless and fascinated desires, undoubtedly testifying to the vastness of the planet.
The most singular is not there. My own musing about Sfiré is more about the opposite fact. Because if it is certain that the site and its religious buildings have been completely inaccessible during the last two centuries and considered as lost in very distant regions, one cannot help but think that, at the time when the temples were built , there was life there, cities perhaps, roads certainly, borrowed at least by processions of pilgrims, by visitors, traders. The same can be said for other places that are still totally isolated today, the pyramids of Meroe or the ruined cities of the Silk Road. What happened there afterwards were sudden resorptions of activity, the ebb of civilization which left behind remnants of which the modern imagination has made places whose poetry resides in their total isolation. But they weren’t always isolated, and perhaps the ugly modern jumbled-up village of Sfiré is a replica of an ancient city on the same spot. Except that, probably, the ancient city was more in osmosis with its environment, and therefore more beautiful. But there too, it is undoubtedly our modern imagination which reconstructs the past as it pleases, and it is our daydreams, still residually romantic, which make us believe, as always, that before was better.