Sawfar or Ain
Sawfar, the Spring of the Whistling of the Wind
The name Sawfar can be understood in several ways.
It can mean the whistling, in particular the whistling
of birds, which would give the meaning finally of
the Spring of Birds. Sawfar might indicate the color
yellow, the yellow light as the sun’s first morning
rays light up the town. But it would most likely mean
the whistling or moaning of the winds that prevail
due to the town’s position on a mountain-top surrounded
by deep valleys. However all that may be, the mountain
scenery around is of great beauty, which makes the
town seem to have floated down from heaven.
Just fourteen miles from Beirut, Sawfar lies at between
3,500 and 4,000 feet above sea level in the caza of
Aley. It is not far from the high pass of Mdayrej
and Dahr el-Baydar, once a great ski resort. In view
of its wonderful fresh, healthy climate, Sawfar was
the favorite summer resort of the the cream of Lebanese
society. To reach it one must take the Beirut-Damascus
high road or one of the regional roads of Metn to
the north or of Aley and the Shouf to the south. Sawfar
has a reputation for its sumptuous residences, villas,
palaces and centers. The Château Bernina Hotel
was occupied by the bloodthirsty Ottoman governor
Jamal Paha during the First World War. President Eddeh
built his summer residence here and the illustrious
Sursock family had a domain. In summer one could formerly
find all the titled and distinguished families of
Beirut in Sawfar although in winter because of the
snow and freezing temperatures the town was deserted,
plunged in fog and mists. In fact the visitors were
far more numerous than the local people.
Every time I passed through the place with its alleys
and perspectives of fine trees, its wide roads, its
greenery, cleanliness, and fresh air, I felt transported
into some corner of Europe. I would see, overlooking
the valley of Lamartine, Jamana and Falugha in South
Metn, the great summer attraction, the historic casino
and hotel, founded in 1995 and the first of its kind
in all the Middle East.
The number of people in Sawfar passes from some five
thousand in winter to some fifteen thousand in summer.
What marks the population is its “multi-confessionalism”,
with every religious community represented. There
are three churches, Maronite, Greek Catholic and Greek
Orthodox and even Jews have property, while there
are the remains of one of their places of worship.
The local people are for the most part engaged in
trade and in agriculture.
The main high road between Beirut and Damascus goes
through the heart of Sawfar, while the railways passes
alongside, hugging the slope of the mountain. If we
turn to the right, we go through Ain Dara and one
may finally reach South Lebanon through Jezzeen. By
turning left one goes through Hamana and Falugha into
the South Metn district.
Sawfar lacks nothing in the way of modern infrastructure
but it suffered much from the fighting at the end
of the last century as it stood on the front line
occupied by the Syrians. The village was in part reduced
to rubble and the fine houses and palaces burnt, looted
and sometimes destroyed. But since then Sawfar has
pulled itself together and set about its reconstruction.
Joseph MATAR - Translation from the French
: William MATAR