The picturesque village of Deirmimas, surrounded by olive groves, overlooks the Litani River, the source of life for south Lebanon and Jabal Amel. Today, the historic windmills along its banks are prized destinations for tourists and residents alike.
To the west, Beaufort Castle, built by the Crusaders, dominates the landscape; to the east, we meet the snow-capped summits of Mount Hermon. The Castle is the largest, and one of the best preserved, Crusader fortresses in Lebanon – one whose strategic location was still fought over in the last decades.
We reach Deirmimas from a winding road, nested within miles of olive groves. Thanks to mild winters and temperate summers, olive trees thrive in the region. The cultivation of olives, and the production of oil, are a staple of the village today.Yet, the rich potential of Deirmimas's olive trees, many of which date back to Biblical times, went unrecognized for a long time until recently.
Today, Deirmimas is home to 1,000 inhabitants, 130,000 olive trees, five churches and three olive mills (ma’asaras). Its historical landmarks include the Monastery of St. Mema and the windmill of Kawatleh. The NGO Aghsan was also established in the village.
Although scattered around the world, the people of Deirmimas continue to demonstrate their enduring attachment to their land and the olive tree.
The name Deirmimas has its origin in ancient Semitic languages. Deir is a Semitic word that means house or convent, and Mimas refers to Saint Mimas, or Mema, the patron saint of the village. A third-century missionary shepherd, Mimas was a Christian martyr during the Aurelian persecutions; he was said to owe his protection to a lion.
The monastery of St Mema in Deirmimas was built around 1404 AD. It originated as a simple medieval stone construction, with six monks' cells and a small adjacent church. The monastery fell into decay and was restored a number of times. Unfortunately, 2004 improvements were canceled out by an Israeli strike during the July 2006 war. The plan for the reconstruction and expansion of the site, financed by Qatar began in 2008.
In Eastern Christianity, Easter is the most important festival; it commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. The other main festival of the year, St Memas's day, takes place on 15 September. On that day, people go to Mass and gather outdoors for a day of joyous feasting.The monastery
The monastery is placed under the aegis of Father Salim Assad, who turned the ruined monastery into a peaceful place of worship and a small museum of Christian iconography. The monastery houses many icons - the most sacred, transcendent art form in the Orthodox Christian church - as well as much admired mosaics depicting the life of Christ.
The cultivation of olive trees dates back to Phoenician times. Since then, it has sustained life in the town and villages of South Lebanon. The olive tree is an integral part of village society, not only economically but also culturally.
Deirmimas continues to be a major producer of olives and olive oil – the latter is known in Lebanon as the Bordeaux wine of olive oils. The yield from the olive trees varies from year to year depending on the climate and care they received from the farmers. In 2012 the olive yield was approximately of 450 tons, and in 2013 of 390 tons of olive oils.
Just like wine, the taste of the oil varies from year to year and from grove to grove and depends on the time of harvest. Green, early harvested olives produce a very intense, spicy oil, and mature olives produce a much milder olive oil.
Mimas Organic Mill: Two farmers, Anne Fawaz and Anwar Nakfour, have established a mill to produce high quality organic olive oil in the Sahel of Deirmimas. The oil is extracted by a state-of-the-art olive mill imported from Italy. Anne Fawaz exports olive oil to Austria since 2009. She named her oil "Mariam's Gold" after her grandmother, who used to produce oil in Deirmimas in the early twentieth century.
The olive variety present in Deirmimas is one of the oldest in the world: the "Soury" olive tree is named after the ancient Phoenician city of Sour/Tyre. According to experts, today's varietal is closely related to the original olive cultivated in the region in 5000 BC. www.mariamsgold.com
Mariams Gold is a prize-winner: It made it to the TOP-TEN ORGANIC OLIVE OILS (4th place) in the Biofach fair 2012 in Nürnberg- Germany, the world`s biggest fair for organic produce.
Deirmimas Cooperative Agriculture: Established in 1972, the cooperative has 130 members. Its objective is to help farmers increase agricultural production, by providing assistance to growers on production issues plant nutrition, pest and weed control, management of olive wastes, the conversion process.
The village also produces a prized soap (saboun baladi) from the oil.
Women and men from Deirmimas and its environs produce a range of homemade preserves. Their products include burghul (cooked and crushed wheat); kechek (made of yogurt and burghul); qawarma (meat preserved in animal fat), as well as thyme, sumac, and vine leaves. On the sweet side, they make molasses, honey, and jams (in particular pumpkin, quince, fig, apricot and raspberries). They pickle vegetables, make dairy products and fragrant orange blossom, sage and rose water.
You can locally purchase mouneh products and handicrafts items made by artisans from Deirmimas and its neighborhood: the Aghsan corner of the Morkos Center, the St Mema monastery store, the Haddad's Mouneh Baladiye shop and Samir Bernaba's dairy products shop.
Traditional agricultural lifestyles are gradually giving way to the modern economy. The deep connection with land and its topography, with the natural cycles of growth seems threatened. Foraging for the abundant wild plants that sprout in Deirmimas after the winter rains is the province of the older generations and the younger enthusiasts who are eager to revive these practices. It is best to take a walk in springtime and fill bags of delicious leaves and stalks that restore the body vital energy and strength.
Around Deirmimas, we find habaq may (water basil), maadeen (wild asparagus), khubeize (mallow), halyoun (asparagus), hendbe (dandelion), jarjeer (rocket), mardakoush (marjoram), selkbarri (Swiss chard), sbanekh barri (wild spinach), shumar (fennel), zaatar farsi (Persian thyme), saifi, dorrah, dardar, balasan, lisan attor, shareb annemr, hommaydah, khobz addeb, heshe meshe, karrat, halbe, rashad barri, erra, qarsanne.
Aghsan brings together Lebanese from different backgrounds and regions who are eager to connect with the natural and rural beauty of their country. They aim, through educational and cultural activities, to conserve the unique heritage of the olive tree.