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Thread: Chouf - Deir El Qamar

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    Default Chouf - Deir El Qamar

    Deir El Qamar and the Shouf. Impression of Eternity.
    Situated in the historical heartland of Mount Lebanon, the Shouf is often referred to as the cradle of modern Lebanon.

    As of 1516 under Ottoman domination, the Governors of Mount Lebanon ruled the areas to which they had been assigned, from their successive residences in Baakline, DeirElQamar and Beiteddine.

    Under their authority, intercommunal cooperation was established leading to independence in 1943.

    The Most renowned of the governors was the Emir Fakhreddine II Maan who, as of 1623, managed to spread his influence beyond today's Lebanese boundaries.

    When his grandfather Fakhreddine Ist came to power in 1518, he settled in Baakline. But because of water shortage, he decided to move to DeirElQamar which became the capital of Mount Lebanon.

    With the disappearance of the second dynasty of the Chehab princes, who succeeded to the Maans in the middle of the 19th century, the importance of DeirElQamar declined gradually to be overtaken by Beiteddine and later by Beirut today's capital.


    DeirElQamar and its surroundings.
    Leaving Beirut via the southern coastal highway, beyond the town of Damour, a right-hand junction takes you over the highway and up the hills of the Shouf.

    This area is very rich with a wide variety of greenery and vegetation and many natural beauty spots, historical sites and examples of Lebanese architecture.

    The high point of this excursion is a walking tour in DeirElQamar through its ancient winding cobbled alleyways.


    A part from having a meal at one of the restaurant in DeirElQamar, Ain Mershed or Beiteddine, there are several cafes and restaurants along the Damour River, a short distance from coastal highway once you start climbing into the hills.

    Another stop which is recommended on a hot day is Jahiliya where the cool waters of the Damour River run into natural pools surrounded by pink oleander groves.

    On leaving the village, a small sign on the right-hand side of the road indicates this area which is especially popular with families as a Sunday outing.


    DeirElQamar World Heritage Site.
    In 1945 the Lebanese Government declared the old area of DeirElQamar a historic site and the palaces and old residences were included in the National Inventory of historical monument. In the sixties work to restore certain monuments were undertaken.

    In 1971 an urban planning project divided DeirElQamar into historic and residential zones. Construction, which contributed to disfiguring the old palaces, was destroyed.

    In 1995 The Municipal Council of DeirElQamar began formalities to class DeirElQamar's monuments as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

    Today DeirElQamar counts about 10.000 inhabitants who intend to preserve not only its architecture, which dates back to feudal times, but also its cobbled streets, walled gardens and quaint and picturesque secluded corners.





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    DeirElQamar Tour.

    The visit should begin from Dany Chamoun Square. This Square with its central fountain was formerly known as Midane or jousting field where in the 16th century jousts and equestrian competitions were held.
    To the north of the Square are the Kaïsariyyeh, the Kharj and the palace of the Emir Fakhreddine II. Here the ground level is made up of a series of attractive arches that used to house the stables. In the center of the Square is a 19th century fountain, supplied with water from the Shalout source where the tired traveler can stop to quench his thirst.


    On the western side of the Square stands a Mosque, which was the first to be built in Mount Lebanon. The Emir Fakhreddine Ist Maan constructed it in 1493 for his Sokman mercenaries. Inscriptions on the west facing facing façade bear the name of the Emir, the construction date as well as three verses from the Coran. The prayer hall of this vast square shaped edifice, has a high vaulted stone ceiling where the central arch rests on a massive pillar. The beautiful octagonal minaret is slightly inclined following a violent earthquake in 1630.

    Directly behind the Mosque and Midane is the old Cobbler's Souk. This used to be the busiest part of town with 38 different stores and workshops. Today, restored but greatly reduced, it still houses a few small shops.

    A little higher up, on the road leading to the Kaïsariyye, is the palace of the Emir Younes Maan. He was the commander in chief of the army during the self-imposed exile of his brother Fakhreddine II in Italy in 1613. This structure was originally three floors high, but the Emir Youssef Chehab demolished the third floor and used the stones to build his own Seraglio, which today houses the Municipality. The most remarkable aspect of this palace is the richness of the main portico decorated with pink stone carved in ripples, which contrasts sharply with the rather austere façade of the structure.
    A little further along is the Kaïsariyyeh built in 1595 under Fakhreddine II. The silk merchants originally used this public market place to sell their silk, which was a flourishing trade at the time. With its open courtyard, its central fountain and shaded areas beneath the surrounding arches, the building is in the classic "Khan" or caravansary style of the Mamelouk and Ottoman eras. Nowadays, the town's Initiate Committee organizes cultural events within its walls.

    At the far end of the courtyard is the Kharj, destined originally as a barracks to house the mercenaries of Fakhreddine II, as well as an ammunition depot. Under the Emir Bechir III (1840 - 1842), it became a food storehouse mainly for the soldiers. In 1992, the Town Council benevolently placed this palace at the disposal of the French Cultural Mission and today it houses the French Cultural and Linguistic Center of the region.

    Overlooking the courtyard of the Kaïsariyyeh, is an attractive building, which was once the home of an influential Jew who was a member of Fakhreddine II's immediate entourage. The ground floor used to house a small 17th century Synagogue. Unfortunately the façade of this construction has been slightly disfigured by some unorthodox restoration work.
    Access to the palace of the Emir Fakhreddine II is via a staircase on the eastern side of the Square. The Khan-style construction is built around a tiled courtyard embellished with an octagonal fountain. This courtyard opens onto rooms, apartments and kitchens. Today the palace houses the Marie Baz Wax Museum, where statues of those who contributed to Lebanon's history are displayed.

    Located directly behind is the residence of Nicolas El Turk, who was the renowned poet to the court of Emir Bechir II. Built in 1805, it now belongs to the Boustany family. Constructed on a slope, this Khan-type edifice comprises a courtyard onto which two attractive "Liwans" open linked by a triple arched gallery. In the entrance of one of the rooms you will see a "Mezuzah" confirming that the first owner was indeed a Jew.

    A little further along you come to the Kobbeh Mausoleum. This small square-shaped construction is the resting-place of the Emirs Ahmed Maan (1662 - 1697) and Haidar Chehab (1706 - 1763) together with his son Mansour (1770).


    Retracing one's step, on the left overlooking the Midane is the palace of the Emir Ahmed Chehab (1754 - 1763), better known as the palace of Gergis Baz. It was built by the Emir Ahmed for his wife who later sold it to Gergis Baz a minister under the Emir Bechir Chehab. This Two-storey structure is built along the lines of the traditional oriental houses with an open-air central courtyard and an octagonal fountain in the middle. The rooms, apartments and kitchens open onto this courtyard. Its impressive portal is made of alternating stones of different colors.

    Crossing the Midane and the main road you reach the Seraglio or Palace of the Emir Youssef Chehab, which today houses the Municipality. This enormous structure constructed around a very large rectangular courtyard was built over the palace of the first Maan prince, Fakhreddine Ist at the beginning of the 15th century.

    The Emir Melhem Chehab (1729 - 1754) brought the construction up to the level of the main Square by adding a second storey. This palace successively became the residence of the Emir Youssef Chehab and his nephew Bechir (1789 - 1840). Access is Through a magnificent doorway decorated with two carved Lions, symbols of the Chehab dynasty. The most remarkable aspects of this palace is the main domed room and the recently restored polychrome wood paneled kiosk where the Emir conducted daily business and received dignitaries.

    On leaving the Seraglio, to the right is a small shaded terrace leading to the hall of the column. This hall with its imposing arches resting on rectangular pillars has a unique column in its center - hence the name. Many openings and windows lighten the appearance of this massive construction.

    Next, just beyond the Maronite monk's monastery, a stairway on the right-hand side of the road leads down to the courtyard of the Church of Saïdet El Talle or Our Lady of the Hill. Built in 451 AD on the side of a Phoenician temple dedicated to the Goddess Astrate, this church enclosed within the walls of the monastery, and destroyed by the earthquake of 859, was rebuilt in the 16th century. Since then it has been enlarged and restored several times. Dedicated to the miraculous Virgin, this is one of the most popular pilgrimage destination in Lebanon and her feast day is celebrated on the first Sunday of the month of August.


    Above the original crude doorway on the southern façade of the Church, you will see a carved stone beam showing a cross over an inverted crescent enveloping a rosette. This symbol is often found in excavations, and is proof that a temple dedicated to the goddess Astrate actually existed. This is where the town got its name, DeirElQamar means Convent of the Moon.

    A Narrow road leads down to what is commonly referred to as the "Church quarter". Beyond the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary built in the 17th century and since restored, a vaulted passage leads to the Church of Saint Elie built in 1741. To enter this small Greek-Catholic Church, you pass beneath a portal in the simple basilical style. The iconostasis as well as the frontal façade and main entrance are all in beautiful pink and white "bouzenar" stone. Against the inside wall of the courtyard you will find the tomb of Nicolas El Turk Emir Bechir's favorite poet.

    To complete this tour, you may enjoy taking a walk through the old picturesque quarters and admiring the walled gardens where delicately scented jasmine, hydrangea and fuchsia grow. You may also rest in the shade of the vines and admire the mandalouns with their planters overflowing with geraniums.

    In good weather, it is pleasant to walk to the top of the surrounding hills and look down onto the town.

    Source: DeirElQamar Data - BEAGG

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    DeirElQamar is unique in Lebanon, a town restored and maintained in a style many centuries old. DeirElQamar not only preserves its grand feudal architecture, but its old stepped streets, walled gardens and picturesque corners as well.

    Shortly after Emir Fakhreddine II came to power in 1590, a chronic water shortage in Baaqline forced him to move his capital to DeirElQamar. There he ruled until his death in 1635. The town remained the residence of the governors of Lebanon until the 18th century, when Emir Bechir II Chehab moved the capital to Beiteddine


    The Huge public square or midane, which was originally used for jousts and other equestrian contests, is surrounded by historic buildings. The large water fountain was added in the 19th century.


    In the square itself is Fakhreddine Ist Mosque, constructed in 1493 and restored in the 16th century by Emir Fakhreddine Ist Maan for his Muslim mercenary soldiers. Behind the mosque is a 19th century Leather-workers' Souk or market, which today houses modern shops.

    Beyond the souk is the Palace of Emir Younes Maan. Emir Younes, the brother of Emir Fakhreddine II, was army commander during Fakhreddine's voluntary exile to Italy in 1613. Later, Emir Youssef Chehab (1770 - 1789) demolished the third story and used the stones to build his own residence, now the Seraglio or the Municipality Palace.


    The Silk Khan or Kaïsariyyeh, located north of the Emir Youssef Chehab Seraglio, was built in 1595 during the reign of Fakhreddine II. It was designed in the classical khan or caravansary style, and originally used as a public market place for jewelry and for silk. Today the khan makes a unique setting for cultural activities.

    The Kharj Barracks is a massive structure built by Fakhreddine II in 1616 as a munitions warehouse and barracks. It was remodeled under Bechir III Chehab (1840 - 1842) and became a food storehouse, mainly for soldiers. Now restored, this monument is the stunning setting of the French Cultural Center.


    Nearby is the synagogue, which was built in the 17th century to serve the local Jewish population, some of whom were part of the immediate entourage of Emir Fakhreddine II.

    The Palace of Emir Ahmed Chehab (Gergis Baz), located east of the midane, was built by the Emir for his wife in 1755. After Emir Ahmed's death, his widow sold it to Gergis Baz, an important political figure of the time.


    The architecture of this two-story structure is the khan type, featuring a central courtyard and basin. Around the courtyard are bedrooms, apartments and baths. The impressive portal is made of alternating stones of different colors.

    The Seraglio of Emir Fakhreddine II Maan (now the Emile Baz Palace) located behind the souks, was built with a central courtyard that opens onto room, apartments and kitchens. The palace is also the site of the Marie Baz Wax Museum featuring effigies of men and women who played a part in Lebanon's history.


    Behind the Emile Baz Palace, is the Residence of Nicolas El Turq (1763 - 182 court poet of Emir Bechir II. Built in 1805 in the khan style, it was restored in 1955 - 1962. A gallery of three arcades links the two sections of the building and on the south façade are three arched windows.

    The Hall of the Column gets its name from the massive column in its center although the vaulted construction is also supported by a number of pillars. A part of the palace of Melhem Chehab (1729 - 1754), it later served as a residence of Emir Bechir II Chehab.


    The Seraglio of Emir Youssef Chehab, which today houses the town's mayoral offices, was built for Emir Fakhreddine Ist. Later enlarged by Emir Melhem Chehab (1729 - 1754), it was then occupied by Emir Yousef Chehab. Finally, Emir Bechir II Chehab stayed there before the palace at Beiteddine was completed. The entrance is through a magnificent door decorated with two lions, symbol of the Chehab dynasty.

    Two other sited are a short distance from the midane. The Mausoleum El Kobbeh is the resting place of Emir Ahmad Maan (1662 - 1697) and Haidar Chehab (1706 - 1732). Saïdet El Talle, or the church of our Lady of the Hill, has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, although the structure we see today dates to Bechir II Chehab. The church has an old door decorated with half-moon under a cross - a reference to the name "DeirElQamar" (Monastery of the Moon). On the first Sunday of August the Feast of the virgin is celebrated here.
    MINISTRY OF TOURISM IN LEBANON


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