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Panoramic Views > Beirut


Guide to the Palais Sursock (Sursock Palace)

Built in the 1860’s for Moussa Sursock, the Palais Sursock is now the residence of its original owner’s Grand-daughter Lady Yvonne Cochrane (born Sursock) who inherited it at the age of two years old. Of all the Sursock houses, it is the largest, and is almost the only one which has retained its pristine glory. Its second owner was Alfred Bey Sursock (the father of Lady Cochrane) who not only increased the size of the gardens, but improved on the collections pf pictures, carpets and other objets d’art which are amongst the best in the Middle East.

The house which consists of one large block is built in the traditional Lebanese style of architecture. There exists in several of the reception rooms some mid-nineteenth century plaster work which recalls very much some of the Sicilian palaces of the same date, and some of the craftsmen employed were Italians, but the who;e conception of the house is entirely Lebanese.

A double flight of white marble steps leads to the main entrance in the south façade, and on entering the house one has an uninterrupted vista through the whole length of the Great Hall (35 meters) ending in a view of Cypress tree and the Mediterranean beyond. In the first entrance hall there is a pair of XVII century Flemish (Brussels) tapestries of which one depicts Cleopatra in a boat on the Nile with Apollodorus and the other shows Marc Anthony swimming in the sea after the naval battle of Alexandria. A third tapestry of this same series was in the possession of the Princess Chevikar of Egypt, the first wife of King Fuad.

In the central part of the Great Hall with its four sets of triple Lebanese arches supported by elegant fluted marble pillars the ceiling is of interest being a good example of a Lebanese ceiling executed in plaster. The painted furniture in this part of the hall was designed for the house when it was built and its decoration is copied from the ceiling.

On the West side of the Great Hall is the Staircase hall which will be dealt with later.

At the North end, three very large windows give on the marble terrace from which one could see across the gardens and down to the port, and all the way up the coast to Byblos, now unfortunately the view is blocked by heaps of unsightly buildings. The door ways that open into the Grand Salon and the Dining Room (as also the entrance doorway) are of the XVII century and were brought from Naples. On the South side of the door leading to the dining room, are a set of Italian pictures of the 16th and 17th centuries, 2 or 3 of which come from Palazzo Serra di Cassano in Naples, the home of Lady Cochrane’s maternal grand-father the Duke of Cassano. The Grand Salon is a fine room with a very pleasant ceiling. On the South wall there was a picture by Guercino “The Betrayal of Samson by Delilah”, unfortunately sold by Lady Cochrane to the Metropolitan Museum New York during the fighting in Beirut, and the other being “Hercules and Omphale”. On the North wall there is a 17th century picture of the “Virgin and St Anne”. And in the middle of the South wall is a picture by Vaccaro of Cleopatra.

There is also a set of 10 panel paintings women dressed in 17th century fashion as imagined by the artist in various parts of the world.

The dining room has a tapestry on the South wall which is Flemish XVIth century and depicts one of the Battles of Harpagus the general of Cyprus the Great. There is also a set of 12 portraits representing 12 Roman emperors. The very large sideboard on the North Wall is from a sacristy of a church in Naples (17 century).

The main staircase is one of the most unusual feature of the house. Owing to the height of the rooms, the major portion of the house is of only two stories, but the “service” side of the house has four stories reached by a different staircase.

The Main Staircase which is double is of marble and the banisters are of cast iron made in Beirut at the time of the buildings of the house. Unfortunately, the factory where they were made no longer exists. At the foot of the stairs, there is a very fine door faced on both sides in brass of which the outside is very beautifully worked. This was also made in Beirut.

All the way up the stairs, there are vitrines containing various collections of which the most interesting is the collection of glass mostly of the second century A.D. all of which was found by Lady Cochrane’s father in the rock tombs under the garden. These pieces for the most part were in unusually good condition having been placed in the tombs as offeringsd and not touched until discovered by Alfred Bey Sursock seventeen hundred years later. Unfortunately, the war has decimated this magnificent collection. There is also a collection of Lebanese jewellery (belt buckles, etc.) which is interesting.

The Upstairs Hall contains a fine Flemish Tapestry of the 17th century depicting “Time cutting the wings of Cupid and sacred Love repelling profane Love”. The gilt figures of boys holding candelabras are Venitian XVIII century and are part of a set of which the others are in the house of the late Desmond Cochrane in Ireland which now belongs to his eldest son Sir Marc Cochrane. There is also a portrait of Lady Cochrane by the English painter Sutter Robertson. Here also is a fine picture by Stomer depicting Muzio Scevola. In the South East corner is a small room recently arranged by Lady Cochrane as a small intimate dining room. This room was very badly damaged during the fighting but has been restored and fitted with 18th century paneling saved just in time from the wreckage of the Sursock house in Sofar.

The Library is the private sitting-room of Lady Cochrane and is paneled in mahogany. The large portrait is of Madame Isabelle Bustros (born Sursock) and is by the French painter Bordes. Madame Bustros was the aunt of Lady Cochrane and having no children of her own, adopted her niece who had been left fatherless at the age of 2. She died in 1958 at the age 96 having exercised very great influence not only in the Sursock Family of which she was the Doyenne but also socially and politically in Lebanon.

On the right of the door on entering there is a portrait of an old man by Ribera (also from the Palazzo Cassano). In the room are pictures by various contemporary Lebanese artists.

In the garden is the visitors’ kiosk which is older than the main house and was converted into the Turkish Baths when the house was built in 1860. it has subsequently been changed into visitors rooms, and the small salon and dining room were paneled in painted wood worked by Damascus workmen in the XVIII century. The garden is the last garden of any size left in Beirut, all the other landowners having sold their houses and gardens for speculative building.

Text: Lady Yvonne Sursock Cochrane

- Sursock Palace: >> View Movie << (2008-06-01)
- Sursock Palace inside: >> View Movie << (2012-06-01)
- Sursock Palace inside: >> View Movie << (2012-06-01)

 

 


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