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
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
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
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
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.
Lady Yvonne Sursock Cochrane
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