The name Mhaidseh is of Semitic origin and evokes
everything modern, new and contemporary. The village
that we are talking about should not be confused with
the one of the same name near Bikfaya.
The Mhaidseh that concerns us here lies to the east
of Lake Karwan sixty miles from Beirut at an altitude
of four thousand feet. It is a quiet village in the
district of Rashaya in the Beqaa valley. To reach
it one may rake the high road from Beirut to Dahr
al-Baidar and then turn right at Shtawra towards the
south. Alternatively, one may go through Jeb-Janine
The place has plentiful supplies of water, so in this
verdant environment there is an abundance of cereals,
green vegetables, fruit trees and vines, the village
being especially famous for the production of a particular
very tasty kind of onion. With the fine residences
hundreds of years old, the ancient ruins and the flowers
everywhere, the surroundings are clean and wholesome.
One residence three hundred years old draws our particular
attention; it is the house of the notable personality
Farouq bey Jamal. This building is composed of black
stones hewn from a quarry of volcanic origin and was
erected by builders and masons from Dhour es-Shweir
, a village in the Matn reputed for its master masons
and craftsmen specialized in stonework.
The main entrance is imposing and even awe-inspiring,
making one wonder if one is really in front of a house
or rather some museum or great gallery for the sale
of antiquities. In fact this residence is a real museum
and is surrounded by trees and vines and flowers which
make it a dream of paradise, an architectural pearl
facing Mount Hermon. The owner of the place is a highly
esteemed man of importance, having many friends in
higher social circles; what is m ore he has always
been ready to come to the help of the inhabitants
of the region and to settle certain differences arising
between Lebanon and Syria. This latter activity has
led to the house being called the Tribunal. French
President Charles de Gaulle was once a guest here
for several days and one may see the room he occupied
with its bed, table and chair.
At present the residence is cared for by its owner,
Farouq bey Jamal, a subtle poet and creative spirit
who continues the social and political tradition of
his forefathers. The place was, and continues to be,
a national emblem radiating light, hospitality and
patriotism. During the French mandate in Lebanon,
Jamal Bey was a minister for just three days and later
was once elected Member of Parliament during the nineteen-fifties.
He was the first secretary of the Socialist Party.
He is a keen student of history and his generosity
has earned him the title of “Hatem Tay”.
Many are the presidents, national leaders and other
great personalities who have visited this historic
house. We have already mentioned Charles de Gaulle,
whose correspondence with the family is most carefully
preserved. But one must add President Abdul Nasser
of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan, Presidents of Lebanon
and Syria, distinguished poets and men of letters,
emirs and the great princess Nazirah Junblatt – the
list is certainly a long one.
What is there to be seen inside this residence? It
is impossible to cover everything, but to be brief
there are objects in gold, silver, copper, bronze,
iron, wood, ivory, enamel, porcelain, ceramic, mother-of-pearl,
earthenware, stone, precious and semi-precious metals,
plaster and crystal, as well as paintings, jewelry,
old coins, tissues, antiques of every description,
artisan work, old costumes, weapons of different periods,
books, manuscripts and parchments. There are busts,
statues, vases, ancient tools and furniture, carpets,
kitchenware, watches and cameras. There are articles
representing every aspect of life in the past. There
are curios to be seen nowhere else, the gifts of heads
of state and of emirs, pens that belonged to famous
people, oil and petrol lamps with colored glass, old
candelabras, water-pipes (hookers), and coffee pots.
Some of these items are hundreds of years old and
unfortunately there remains much to be done in the
way of classification and arrangement, with many photos
and memorabilia stowed away in cupboards.
The stairway of the main entrance has been worn by
the passage of time. The Jamal family has the merit
of having preserved this precious heritage during
the barbarous rule of the Ottomans and during the
more recent short French occupation as well as during
the disturbances that have troubled Lebanon.
It should be noted that Mhaidseh has had the honor
of being the first town in Lebanon to have a woman
as chairman of its municipal council, for in 1995
Mme. Fadia Jamal was elected to this post, so proving
how emancipated the inhabitants are, and free to make
their own choice.
It is much to be hoped that the museum we have spoken
of may be enlarged so as to better show off the fine
collection within. We advise every tourist, sightseer
and lover of nature to visit Mhaidseh, to explore
the village and to go round the museum in order to
admire its unique collection.
Matar - William Matar - Marina Matar
Tanslation from the French: Kenneth J. Mortimer
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