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Explore / El Shouf

It is a mountainous district in the heart of Mount Lebanon. El Shouf is the cradle of modern Lebanon. During the Ottoman rule (since 1516) the governors of Mount Lebanon had been in charge of the districts they were assigned to; they used to govern from their residences, in Baakline, Deir el Qamar and Beiteddine respectively.

During their reign, the basic lines of agreement between sects were drawn, which resulted in the declaration of the Independence in 1943. the most well-known figures among these governors is Emir Fakhr al-Din el Maani II, who managed to impose his authority upon extra territorial lands that were not parts of the Lebanon known today.

When his grandfather (Fakhr al-Din I) assumed authority in 1516 after the battle of Marj Dabeq, he settled in Baakline. But due to the lack of drinking water, be moved to Deir el Qamar and settled there. He granted it the title: the capital of Mount Lebanon. During the reign of Emir Bechir el Chehabi II, the center of focus was Beiteddine, and later on, Beirut, which came to be the capital of Lebanon.

 

How Do We Get to the Shouf District

We get to Shouf by the quick Beirut-Sidon highway towards Sidon. Twenty-five kms from Beirut, there is a cross-road in the town of Damour. We go along it towards the Shouf heights, adjacent to the river-bed of Damour River, where there are some restaurants. Then we ascend, going through the heart of the Mountain.

Deir el Qamar

It is an old town hemmed in an urban frame that maintained the architectural prosperties of the 17th and 18th centuries. This pattern continues until you reach Beiteddine. In the old beautiful streets, gardens blossoming with roses and jasmine attract one's sight, besides the outdoor stone benches that belong to the houses, and which are filled with vines dangling in front of the houses, the flower beds and the houses and narrow streets. All of this makes out of the town a scenic place.

 

Historical Background

In 1945, the Lebanese Government included the old town of Deir el Qamar as well as its old palaces and houses in the list of historic places. The process of repair and rehabilitation started in the 1960s. In 1971, a lay-out was set by which its residential and historic features were determined. Thus the buildings which had distorted the beauty of the town places and el Saray were pulled down. In 1995 Deir el Qamar was rehabilitated in order to present its portfolio to be included in the UNESCO world heritage list.

Nowadays, there are around ten thousand inhabitants from whom three thousands stay in the town all the year. Its inhabitants have preserved the architecture (which dates back to the feudal period) as well as the paved streets, the fenced gardens and every beautiful corner in the town.

 

 


A visit to Deir el Qamar

The tour in Deir el Qamar starts from the Public Square (al – Midan), which was an arena for swordsmanship and competitions. In the center of the Square there is a water spring (from the nineteenth century) whose source is the "Shalout". This spring provides for the tourist cool refreshing drinking water.

On the western side of the square there is the first Mosque built in the Mountain (1493) by Emir Fakhr al-Din I (the first Maani Emir) for his mercenaries. It is a square-shaped structure. It has a high dome and an octave leaning minaret (due to the 1630 earthquake). On its façade the name of the Emir, the date of construction and three verses from the Holy Koran are inscribed. The Midan also harbors the Shoe Market, which was the most active market in the town (18 shops and factories). It is still there, but its shops are less in number.

Behind the Souk, there lies the palace of Emir Younis el Maani, the leader of the army of his brother, Emir Fakhr al-Din II during the time when the latter was exiled to Italy in 1613 – 1618. Emir Yousef Chehab (1770 – 1789) pulled down a floor of this palace to use its stones in building his own Saray (currently the municipality building of the town). The porch is elaborately decorated and rich in its multi colored stones. Today the ground floor has become a museum of Manuscripts.

El-Qaysariyya (the Silk Saray)

It was built in 1595 during the reign of Emir Fakhr al-Din II. It was a public market for the silk trade (a flourishing trade at that time). In the center there is an unroofed courtyard around which there are 16 stores whose style of construction was similar to that of the famous trade centers at that time: trade "khans" and "sarayas" belonging the Mamluke and Ottoman periods. El-Qaysariyya hosts today the cultural festivals held in the town. Beside el-Qaysariyya, there are several stairs that used to lead to the dwelling place of the mercenaries of Emir Fakhr al-Din II as well as their arsenal. The building was transformed during the reign of Emir Bechir III (1840 – 1842) into a food storehouse for the soldiers. Since 1992, the building has been a French Cultural and Language Center. Beside el Qaysariyya there is an old house whose owner was a wealthy Jew, then a prominent merchant from Deir el Qamar named Mansour el Quboa', bought it in mid-19th century. In the ground floor there is a small synagogue from the 17th century in which repair works were undergone.

There is a wide stair-way from the main Square which leads to the Palace of Emir Fakhr al-Din II (It was built in 1620). It follows the model of a "khan". Inside there is a paved square yard in the middle of which is a pond. All around the yard there are halls, kitchens and rooms. The Bazz family bought the palace in 1925 and transformed it into a wax museum named after "Mary Bazz". Nowadays, it houses wax statues of dominant figures belonging to the Emirate period and the Modern age.

(The Museum opens all week days From 9:00a.m. to 8:00p.m. (6:00p.m. in winter).

Tel.: 05-512777 – 05-511666 Paid Entry)

At the exit, there is a stair-way that leads to the palace of Nqula el Tirk, poet laureate during the reign of Emir Bechir II. It was constructed on an uneven land in 1805 following the model of a "khan". In the center there is a yard leading to two houses through hallways domed with three vaults. Nqula el Tirk was a prominent Greek Catholic from Deir el Qamar. And in 1949, Fouad Ifram el Bustani bought and repaired the building.

At the upper part of the street there is a staired alley leading to the "Darih el Qobba": a small tomb square shaped containing the remains of the princes Ahmad el Maani (1662 – 1697), Haidar Chehab (1706 – 1729) and his son Mansour (1770).

At the right side of Mary Bazz-Museum lies the palace of Emir Ahmad Chehab (1754 – 1763). The palace is known by the name "George Bazz Palace". Emir Ahmad built it in 1755 for his wife who sold it later to George Bazz (Wezir of Emir Bechir Chehab II). It is a two storey building following the model of the traditional Oriental buildings. In the center there is an unroofed interior yard that includes an octave pond and around which are rooms and baths. The main gate is decorated with engravings and colored stones. Visitors are not allowed in.

At the southern side of the main square lies the municipality building of Deir el Qamar (the Saray of Emir Yousef Chehab). It is constructed above the palace of Emir Fakhr al-Din I (early sixteenth century). In the center there is a rectangular interior square. Emir Melhem Chehab (1729 – 1754) added another floor, which allowed for reaching the level of the square. Later on it was the residential place of Emir Bechir II (1789 – 1840). It has a magnificent entrance on top of which are two rings with two lions (the symbol of the Chehab Princes). It includes the court rooms that are vaulted and that have colored wooden facades that have been repaired lately.

The organizational system of the Ottoman provinces was applied in Deir el Qamar. Thus the first municipal council in Lebanon was formed in 31 August 1864.

At the right side of the Saray there is "the room of the column", which has a single column supporting the vault.

Some steps away, to the right of the main road, there is a stair-way that leads to the church of "Saydet el Tella" (Our Lady of the Hill), dedicated to the Miraculous Virgin, and it is one of the holy places in Lebanon. It was constructed in 451 on the ruins of a Phoenician temple for Astarte (Venus).

The church is adjacent to a monastery. It was damaged by a quake in 859 and was rebuilt in the sixteenth century. In it extended and repair work has been undergone several times. The feast of Virgin Mary is held on the first Sunday of August.

The upper part of its main gate at the southern side is decorated with a frame on top of which there is a crescent as well as a cross. The inverted crescent that is part of the frame which appears in the Punic (Carthaginian) archeological excavations is a proof of the presence of a Phoenician temple dedicated to Astarte. That's why the town is named "Deir el Qamar".

At the west southern side of the old city, there is a paved alley that leads to the church of "Saydet el Wardiya" (from the seventeenth century), as well as an arched passage that leads to St. Elias Church (built in 1741) for the Greek Catholic Community. It follows the model of the plain basilic architecture. Its altar, façade and gate are made of white and pink stones. Inside it is the tomb of the poet, Nqual el Tirk.

 

Around Deir el Qamar

Two kilometers away from Deir el Qamar (toward Beiteddine), there is "Mousa Castle", which bears the name of its builder. It is an attractive building that includes wax statues representing scenes of every day traditional life in Mount Lebanon.

It opens daily from 8:00a.m. to 8:00p.m. (6:00p.m. in summer). Tel.: 05-500106 – 03-273750

www.mousacastle.com.lb

Paid Entry

Beiteddine

Beiteddine is 850 meters above the sea level. In it there is Beiteddine Palace, which was built by Emir Bechir el Chehabi II (who ruled Mount Lebanon for more than half a century). This palace is the best example of 19th century Lebanese architecture; it was built over a thirty year period of time.

In order to reach Beiteddine, one has to pass through Deir el Qamar and Mousa Castle, and a 6 kilometer drive on the main road.

 

Historical Background

Since the middle Ages, Lebanon has been divided up into fiefs governed by emirs and sheikhs who assumed authority through heredity. In the early years of the 17th century, Emir Fakhr al-Din el Maani II (died in 1635) succeeded in extending his power over the feudal families and ruled an area corresponding to that of the present-day Lebanon.

After the Maani dynasty died out (end of the 17th century), the land was inherited by the Maani relatives, the emirs of the Chehab family. Emir Bechir Chehab II left Deir el Qamar and constructed his palace in Beiteddine, which was a Druze hermitage (khalwa). In 1812, the Emir obliged all his male subjects to provide two days of unpaid labor yearly to supply his Palace with water. This was done within two years and after 80000 days of labor.

The Palace remained the Emir's residence until 1840 (when he was exiled). In 1842, the Ottoman authorities put an end to the emirate rule in Lebanon; thus the Palace became the residence of government (1860 – 1915); then, after World War I, it was used during the French Mandate period for administrative purposes. It was declared a historic monument in 1934, and it regained its original magnificent state after having been repaired.

1n 1943, the palace became the summer resident of the Lebanese President. When Bechara el-Khoury was elected president, the remains of Emir Bechir II (who died in 1850 in Istanbul) were brought back to the palace grave-yard.

Beiteddine Palace along with its musums and gardens are among the tourist places that are visited most.

It opens daily (except Monday) from 9:00a.m. to 6:00p.m.

(from 9:00a.m. to 4:00p.m. between November and March).

Tel.: 05-500077

Paid Entry

 

Style and Architecture

Its architectural components are borrowed from the local traditional style. The Emir brought over Syrian craftsmen who used the "Impasto" technique. That is why the Damascene style is depicted in the ceilings and panelings.

 

Dar el-Baraniyyeh (the outer section of the palace)

On the entrance there are two lions (as the entrance of Yousef Chehab Saray in Deir el Qamar). The main entrance leads to a long arched passage-way, then to a courtyard, al Midan, (107 ´ 45 meters), where horsemen, courtiers and visitors used to meet when major festivals were held, or for important events. The Emir used to leave the Palace with pomp and grandeur, either for war or for hunt.

Along the side of the court, there is a hall called "al Madafa" for receiving guests. The ground floor was for riding animals. The upper floor included rooms open unto the court. It was the custom to let the guest (or the tourist) stay for three days before being asked about his identity or the purpose of his visit.

In the building there is a hall that includes a large collection of pottery from the Bronze and Iron Ages: Roman glass, gold jewelry, lead sarcophagi, as well as glazed pottery from the Islamic period. At the entrance of the hall, there is a miniature model of the palace which gives the visitor a hint about the buildings of the palace and their sizes. In other halls or rooms, one can see ethnographic and precious objects (costumes of the feudal period) in addition to ancient and modern weapons.

 

Dar el-Wousta

An ancient double stairway leads to the western side of "al Midan", where there is a wing rich in greenery and delightful architecture, which has given Beiteddine the nickname "The Lebanese Alhambra". From an elaborately decorated entrance, one may go into a vaulted passage which leads to the right, towards the apartments of the Hamadeh Sheikhs (who were in charge of security matters in the palace). A turn to the left brings the visitor to the Administrative Offices. Then there is a passage leading to a beautiful courtyard whose fountains are in a pond above which three arcades lie over three sides of the court. One of the rooms bears the name of the Emir's Minister, Boutros Karami. The fourth side toward the westsouth court leads to a hallway that abounds with the traditional Lebanese architecture. The rooms around the court are surrounded by two balconies called commandlounes. The rooms are richly decorated with mosaics and marquetry as well as paintings embellished with Arab calligraphy. There are also marble fountains to cool the surroundings in summer while brass braziers were used to give warmth in winter. At the eastsouth side of the Midan, there was the office of the Emir's Minister while the east-north side included Dar al-Kataba, which led to a back yard.

 

Dar el Harim (the Private Apartments)

At the westnorth side there is a big entrance considered one of the most delightful oriental architectural works. This leads to Dar el Harim (private apartments). It is a wing composed of a richly decorated façade, and which includes a reception room (upper storey), and a lower storey including the kitchens and the baths. To the left of the Harim entrance there is a reception wing which includes an interior room called "the room of the column", which has a single column supporting the vault. It also includes a reception room called "Salamlik", built on two levels and decorated with colored marble with inscriptions of Koranic verses in Arabic. The Emir used to sit on the raised platform or in the divan, receiving the employees and prominent visitors in the palace.

In one room the poet Lamartine was received in 1833; another room includes inscriptions indicating that it had been a court room. There is a corridor that leads to the lower part of Dar el Harim. The latter is composed of the private apartments of the Emir and his family. In the center there is a courtyard enclosed on four sides leading to the liwan which provided fresh air. Between the upper and lower parts of Dar el Harim, there were kitchens where servants used to prepare daily meals for more than 500 people (who lived or worked in the palace). The balconies of this wing overlook the surroundings of the palace and its gardens, the valley across the northern side of Dar el Harim, the kitchens and the baths, "the Hammams", which had been the most beautiful ones in the Arab world. These baths followed a tradition that dated to the Roman period: they comprised a cold room or a frigidarium for relaxation, and a reception room, then a warm room or tepidarium, used for massaging and served as a transition section between the cold and warm rooms. The rooms were paved with brick vaults, which allowed for the passage of heated air. The baths overlooked a garden that included the tomb of Sitt Shams (the first wife of Emir Bechir; and inside it are the remains of Emir Bechir since they were brought over from Istanbul in 1947).

Dar el Wousta and Dar el Harim were constructed over vaulted beautiful rooms that had been stables accommodating 600 horses and their riders. These horses were the Emir's; in addition, the stables included 500 foot-soldiers. These rooms have been repaired and rehabilitated; nowadays these rooms include the most exquisite collection of Byzantine mosaics in Lebanon. The Greek inscriptions indicate that these mosaics date to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. . Besides the mosaic museum there is the hermitage or "el-Khulwa" (a large room in which the Druze Sheikhs meet), which has been repaired and is open to welcome the visitors.

 

Also in Beiteddine, Palace of Emir Amine

Emir Bechir built a palace for each of his three sons: Qassim, Khalil and Amine. Nothing is now left from the palace of Emir Qassim except some ruins on a promontory facing the Great Palace. The palace of Emir Khalil became the seat of local administration.

On the other hand, the palace of Emir Amine overlooks the Beiteddine complex; it has been repaired and transformed into a luxury hotel. It was called "Al-Maqsaf".

Some meters away from the palace of Emir Amine, there is the summer residence of the Maronite Archbishop of Sidon which was Emir Bechir's country house. Some of the features of its original architectural elements have remained, among which a beautiful door-way that is covered with a pagoda-shaped roof, in the Chinese style. It was built in the days of Archbishop Augustine el Bustani in the first half of the twentieth century.

Baakline

Four kilometers away to the eastsouth side of Beiteddine lies the town Baakline (the first capital of the Maani Emirs, who had settled in it since 1120). It is famous for its beautiful old houses and its big Saray that had been the seat of the local administration in Mount Lebanon until World War II. Later it was transformed into a public library and a cultural center. It follows the modern classical model, and the influence of 19th century European architecture is clearly seen. In the central part of the town lies the palace of Sheikh Hussein Hamadeh (built gradually since 1591). This town is well-known for its craftsmanship (embroidery, rug weaving similar in its style to that of the Persian one).

Mukhtara

 

It lies toward the eastsouth side of Beiteddine. It is 850m. above sea level. Since the seventeenth century it has been the residence of the Jumblatt Family. Still it is characterized by its traditional houses among which is the palace of the Durzi leader, Walid Jumblatt. It is a grand palace that dates back to mid-19th century, combining both the Italian and the Eastern influences. The palace was constructed by Sheikh Bechir Jumblatt, on the ruins of a structure from the 17th century. The building was destroyed in 1825 due to the hostile acts arising from the conflict between Emir Bechir and Sheikh Bechir Jumblatt. The palace was repaired for the last time in the middle of the nineteenth century.


Baadaran

59km from Beirut and at 7 kms away from South el Mukhtara (1100m altitude),  Baadaran,is  a pretty example of a Lebanese village. Its monuments, dating to the feudal period, bear witness to a prestigious past: here are found the palace of Ali Pacha Joumblatt –  Governor of the Shouf from 1712 to 1778 and Fakhr al-Din II’s ally – and other rich abodes continuously inhabited to this day.

It is famous for its perforated marble tombs, its beautiful environment that includes pine and oak forests as well as gardens that abound with vine-plants and blossoming trees.

Its climate is temperate and healthy in both spring and summer which draws in vacationers and tourists. Autumn and winter arc rainy, the yearly rainfall averag­ing 1000mm. It snows often in winter, some drifts reaching a depth of one meter.

Baadaran is surrounded by a privileged natural envi­ronment: forests of oak and pine, vineyards as far as the eye can see fruit trees galore in addition to a multitude of sweet smelling herbs and plants. Three forests, where can be enjoyed camping, walking and watching birds and animals are: Al-Dabche, la Pinede and A'in-el ­Safiie. Several fountains supply the village with drinking water: A’in-Mrah, Aï-Kabou and the oldest Aïn-el-Safiie, at the bottom of the forest, bearing the same name. At the entrance to the village, a huge rock with a strangely inclined -Abou-Mankoud- bids welcome to all visitors and Al-Kawayer, a large area of rocks exposed to sun and rain, provides an impressive picture of the result of nat­ural erosion on stone and rocks.

 

Etymology: Baadaran, in Syriac, means "stop­over" or "halt". Indeed, this site was an ideal stop-over point for all persons travelling between North Sinaï or Palestine and Mount Lebanon or Damascus.

 

Historical and Cultural Heritage:

- The Joumblatt Palace:

Some historians claim that this palace was built on the ruins of a roman citadel. To­day's palace was built by Cheikh Ali Joumblatt (1712 to 1778).

- The portal of Taj-Eddine Palace:

Bears witness to the Taj- Eddine family’s prestige. The palace was built by Cheikh Rabah Ibn-Taj-Eddine in 1676, and its portal was recently restored by the Directorate General of Antiquities.

Khalwat-Al-Kataleb and the Church:

Both bear witness to a Druzo-Christian co-existence, both cultur­al and religious.

- The old cemeteries:

Including that of the Joumblatts, andlso, ancient sarcophagi.

- The ruins of Khrayeb:

they face Baadaran.

- The old presses for wine and olive oil.

 

Handicraft and other activities:

Baadaran has maintained certain ancient craft that had brought it some renown: weaving on the "No'', stone cutting, food preserves, handicrafts and the manu­facture of articles made of straw. Baadaran is noted for the production of traditional "abayas" embroidered with gold threads.

Every year, meetings, festivals and fairs are organized in order to promote handicrafts, sport competitions and scouting.

Amateurs of parapente can practice their sport over Ras-al-Mankoud which overlooks Amatour. Also a superb plot of land of 25.000m2 in which can be found an important gathering of birds and animals, notably gazelles and partridge, (both protected by the National Hunting Council) is especially favoured by persons lov­ing to fly kites.

El-Barouk

At the foot of el-Barouk Mountain which is full of cedar trees, there is an exemplary village which is 1170 meters above the sea level. It abounds with restaurants and water springs. The Barouk cedar forest is a natural reserve today. Its area is 15600 hectares. It is the most protected and cared for forests in Lebanon.El-Barouk

At the foot of el-Barouk Mountain which is full of cedar trees, there is an exemplary village which is 1170 meters above the sea level. It abounds with restaurants and water springs. The Barouk cedar forest is a natural reserve today. Its area is 15600 hectares. It is the most protected and cared for forests in Lebanon.

Al Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve

With an era of 15600 ha this is the largest natural reserve in Lebanon. Some of its trees are over two thousand years old. It is home for medium-sized animals likes wolves and foxes as well as a large variety of birds and wild plants. It is an ideal destination for amateurs of mountain climbing, jogging and walking, as well as for those who love animals. Its mountain-top stands at 1940m and allows a panoramic view eastward over the village of Barouk, the lake of Karaoun and the Bekaa valley, and westward, the coastline and the Mediterranean sea. 

For more info, check our Natural Reserves section. 

Maasser el Shouf

This village lies next to a cedar forest. Six kilometers away there is a natural reserve (wolves, foxes, rare birds, reptiles and strange plants). Visits are paid. From the top of the mountain that overlooks the village (1940m), Beqaa Plain, Litani River and Sadd el Qaraoun are viewed. It is a place perfect for tourists and picnic lovers. It is well known for its top quality "arrack".

Niha

It is located between Beiteddine and Jizzine. In it lies Teron Cave (the Arabs called it "Shqif Teron". The locals know it by the name "The Castle of Niha" and "Teron Niha". It is 7 km north of Jizzine, a cavern engraved in uneven rocks, 1100m above sea level and 300 meters away from the main road. It overlooks the confluence of Barouk River and Wadi Jizzine both of which constitute Awwali River, which flows into the sea, north Sidon.

The place is secluded and difficult to reach. Teron Cave protects the entrance of Sidon. It looks like the Cave of Al-Habees in Tabaraya, composed of several layers and large cavities fed by the waters of a spring that comes out from the heart of the mountain. It has holes filled with grains. Emir Fakhr al-Din II took refuge in this cave in 1633 as he fled from an Ottoman squad headed by Ahmed Kujuk Pacha. This squad was after the Emir for his declaring war for the sake of unifying Lebanon and declaring the independence of Mount Lebanon. After being besieged for some days, Fakhr al-Din surroundered and the Ottomans exiled him to Constantinople, where he was executed along with his three sons. The cave had been also taken as a shelter by Emir Qorqumaz (Fakhr al-Din's father) in 1584. It is not historically proven whether Fakhr al-Din II took refuge in Shqif Teron or in Jizzine Cave.

Chhim

Between Beiteddine and the sea-shore, there is a small Corinthenian temple that dates back to mid second century A.D. There are drawings on the altar wall and two embossed engravings around the door. Its thresholds are engraved with a winged sun disk. Around the temple there are the remains of a temple, and the ruins of some houses, and an oil squeezer dating to the Byzantine Period.

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