Oh how beautiful Lebanon can be, and how amazing it feels to be a tourist in your own country! As we love discovering unknown historical landmarks, and learning more and more about our homeland’s surprising and eventful past, we thought it was time to take a day off and head to one of the most beautiful, yet forgotten historical monuments in Lebanon: the Riyak train station.
Being a fan of all-Lebanese-heritage-anything, this destination was the perfect choice! So we packed up and took off on an adventure we considered being the most interesting and time-frozen journey.
The Riyak train station situated in the Bekaa Valley is one of the many abandoned train stations in Lebanon; but that hasn’t taken away any of its raw beauty. The first impression we got was how old it was and how much history it has in every square meter. It was built in 1891 and was the connecting railway between Lebanon and Syrian cities such as Damascus, Aleppo and Homs for over a century.
The wrecked remains of the station make you realize how bad war damage can get. Everything is exactly the way it used to be but only aged, rusted and gracefully decayed. It’s like it was meant to go through hard times to become its more beautiful version. It’s beauty is not the kind that astonishes you but more the one that makes you wish you were alive in those days just to see how it used to be and understand its story.
In the beginning of August 1895, the first train took off from the port of Beirut to Riyak railway station three years after its construction. The station was famous for having one of the biggest train factories in the world at that time. Which helped in raising its population from 100 people to 3,000 (quite a lot for a place like this!).
By 1912, it became an essential component in an intercontinental rail system that spread throughout Europe and Asia and turned to be a link between Europe and Africa in the 1940s. Later, it became well known for creating and reassembling fuel-powered engines. The factory was equipped with machines from Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Surprising right? We thought so too.
During the Second World War, it served as the designing and building place for French military airplanes and weapons. We’ve also heard that some of the 20th century’s most powerful figures passed through the station, such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia from 1888 to 1918.
As Lebanon’s Civil War took off, the railway was unfortunately shut in 1976, after more than 85 successful years. Even though we didn’t have the happy ending we wanted, we’ve learnt that today, Riyak is privileged to hold one of the two remaining examples of a historical Swiss locomotive. The other is in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael train station: one more thing to be proud of!
Although many rumors have spread about the possibility of turning the Riyak station into a museum, no plans have actually been put into place. However, there is still some magic in catching a glimpse of the beleaguered ghost station that one can easily imagine haunted by travelers past!