Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cedar of Lebanon is a member of the pine family, a coniferous evergreen with needle-like leaves.  It is native to the eastern Mediterranean and grew on the north and west-facing slopes in mixed forests from 500 to 9000 feet above sea level.  When growing in the open the cedar will assume a broad conical shape but in more competitive settings it can grow tall and straight with a high canopy up to 130 feet in height.  These were the trees that were most prized by the ancient empires: durable, strong, and attractive.  As early as the fourth millennium BCE, the cedar of the mountains in what is now southern Turkey, northern Syria, and Lebanon, was being exported to the first great civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.  The most prized trees grew on the highest crests of that forest. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) in his Natural History remarks that, “as for cedar, those of Crete, Africa, and Syria are the most esteemed”.  The wood is strong, fine grained, and easily worked and finished.  It is naturally rot-and insect-resistant.  It is also a soft yellow colour and produces a pleasing aroma.  Extracts of cedar wood and cones were prized for their medicinal and aromatic qualities. Because of its superior qualities and high demand, cedar was prized for the construction of ships, palaces, and temples.  The mighty gates of the ancient walled city of Uruk, the home of Gilgamesh, were built of cedar wood, as were the doors of the palace of the Egyptian pharaoh Snefru.  Most famously, Phoenician carpenters built the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem using cedar. Phoenicians of the Mediterranean Coast were masters of cedar work who believed that the tree itself was an animate, immortal spirit.