Bkerzay village, a green sanctuary in Lebanon for art and authentic living
At least 150 pieces of pottery are produced in Bkerzay every week.
2017/07/09 Issue: 114 Page: 21
The Arab Weekly
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.