Bkerzay village, a green sanctuary in Lebanon for art and authentic living

Sunday 09/07/2017
Reversing a trend. Guest houses in Bkerzay. (Courtesy of Bkerzay)

Bkerzay, Lebanon - Preserving nature and an­choring the people in their land, reviving traditional crafts and ensuring sus­tainability is the three-way goal of Bkerzay. The eco-village project — situated within luscious green lands covered with old olive trees and wild pine forests in the heart of Lebanon’s Chouf Moun­tains — is meant to set a precedent in a country that is quickly losing its green areas to concrete blocks and modernisation.
“It is a reaction to what is going on in the country, a positive one,” said founder Ramzi Salman. “We have grown up in this country and saw the beauty of it but we are also seeing the ugly things… It is an at­tempt to remind people of authen­tic beauty.
“Also, what you do (properly) is usually copied and I wanted to do a positive thing to be copied.”
When Salman started the project in 2010, the idea was to set up a hub for craftsmen and artisans starting with pottery, a millennia-old craft that was dying.
He explained he wanted to cre­ate a platform of exchange between the underprivileged rural regions and city people and to stem migra­tion to urban areas. “We wanted to reverse the trend (migration),” he said. “To do that, you have to high­light local talents and know-how and establish this financial interac­tion with the city.”
Built on an area of 200,000 sq. metres, Bkerzay has evolved into a preservation project of both the environment and the rural commu­nities. It was expanded to include eco-lodges and artisans’ workshops
“There are a lot of local capabili­ties in crafts but they lacked artis­tic guidance of what markets and customers wanted. Bkerzay pottery combined art and artisan know-how becoming a well-recognised hub for all potters to exhibit. It has definitely revived the craft,” said project manager Lara Moutin.
The ceramic bowls, plates, cups and decorative pieces with contem­porary colourful designs of vari­ous patterns made with traditional techniques have become a Bkerzay trademark and are sold in shops around Beirut. In addition to a per­manent exhibition by its own mas­ter potters, a yearly pottery festival takes place in Bkerzay with crafts­men gathering from all over Leba­non.
Visitors can see Bkerzay’s two resident potters working on site and can take pottery lessons themselves
Ahmad Deif works with 20 types of sand and clay, using different rec­ipes and moulding various shapes and colours before tucking them in ovens at Bkerzay pottery. The 27-year-old Egyptian master potter has spent half of his life exercising the craft. He arrived in Lebanon six years ago and is sharing his knowl­edge with local craftsmen to pro­duce more sophisticated and artis­tic potteries.
At least 150 pieces of pottery are produced in Bkerzay every week. “The art of pottery is very large,” Deif explained. “One can use differ­ent raw materials in different ways and combinations. Also, different oven temperatures are applied de­pending on the end product that you want.”
Bkerzay is also a green village dedicated to preserving the natural surroundings and encouraging pro­duction of honey, olive oil, soap and herbs. Plantations are being devel­oped to produce organic fruit and vegetables, guest houses and lodg­es are built around trees to avoid having to cut a single one.
The dwellings, boasting rural and vernacular architectural styles and powered by solar energy, were built using local and recycled construc­tion materials. The project includes ten basic small rooms suitable for hikers and backpackers and arti­san residences in which artists can spend time to produce artworks, of which one at least will be dedicated to Bkerzay.
Additional amenities include a main restaurant and a café offer­ing traditional dishes, a swimming pool, a Turkish bath, a massage room and hiking paths.
Moutin said the place caters to a wide variety of clients, includ­ing young urban professionals, re­tired middle-aged couples, young families with young children and students, all seeking an authentic lifestyle with a connection with na­ture, in a preserved environment away from digital and noise pollu­tion.
Bkerzay is also vying for a Build­ing Research Establishment En­vironmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) rating, a highly demand­ing certification that applies to green constructions, Moutin said.
“The aim is to shift completely away from fossil fuel use,” she said. “We are acquiring capabilities to get our energy only if not mainly from solar. We are triggering a waste management project through recy­cling and producing compost from organic waste to be used in bio plantation, while wastewater will be collected for irrigation.”
Bkerzay is not a hotel, nor a re­sort, Salman stressed. “It is an ide­alistic project to remind people about the ingredients of happiness and beauty. It is a call back to au­thentic and genuine living.”
With numerous initiatives in the works, Bkerzay sets a perfect ex­ample of ecotourism philosophy. It is also fast becoming a springboard for developing the country’s artisan crafts and promoting the products of the Chouf region.
The site is to be fully operational by end of August.