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Hammana Mezher Palace

From north to south the Lebanese mountain range offers a wonderful network of deep valleys, of which at least four have particular attraction:

- The holy valley of Kadisha in the north, crowned by the celebrated forest of cedars.
- The valley of Adonis in the center, known locally as that of Nahr (River) Ibrahim or Valley of Flowers, at whose highest point is the grotto of Afca out of which rush the waters of the river.
- The valley of Baskinta, dominated by the most beautiful mountain of eternal snows, glorious Sannine.
- The valley of Hammana with its picturesque and poetic views and its depths dominated by Hammana town. All these valleys open out on the sea on the west side of the range.
- Then there is the Jordan Valley running north-south below Mount Hermon and descending to the Dead Sea. This is not a simple valley but rather a geological rift, a vast cleft overlooked by the 2760-meter summit of Mount Hermon.

Hammana, a Christian village whose name derives from that of the sun god, is a well-known mountain summer resort thirty-three kilometers east of Beirut, 1300 meters high, lying in the administrative district of Baabda not far from the Dahr al-Baidar pass, Mdayrej and Falougha. Zahleh is twenty-five kilometers further on and Baalbek ninety. One can reach Hammana either by the coastal road climbing through the Metn district or by the road coming from Damascus, turning right at Mdeyrej.

The roots of the Mezher family go back to the “Ghassassinates” and the Tannoukhiin princes. It was they who governed the region of Hammans when it belonged to the Druze “Muqqaddameen”.

From the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries onwards, Christians flowed into Hammana at the invitation of Druze leaders, coming as farmers, technicians, workers and craftsmen. The Mezher Muqqaddameen received them with open arms, giving them pieces of land free, while Abu Hussein Mezher allowed them to build churches, to pray and practice their religion and even to ring the church bells.

During his travels in the Orient in 1832 the French poet Alphonse Lamartine wrote: “One of the most beautiful views that men have ever beheld, an opportunity to paint the creation of God, is the valley of Hammana. Painting or words can describe only one detail of the fairylike treasure with which the Creator endowed Lebanon. The greenery, the trees, the orchards and the forest are renowned, going down in succession and filling the valley with their riches....”

Palaces, villas and venerable dwellings lend a musical touch, with the hotels, the schools, the institutions, but above all the Mezher Palace overlooking the valley like a window onto paradise and once occupied by the illustrious Lamartine, his wife, and his daughter Julia. Two centuries after Lamartine’s stay in the Mezher palace, it still keeps its sell-preserved and majestic appearance.

The Mezher palace that Lamartine occupied was once the residence of the Muqqaddameen and of the Druze governors. It made a deep impression on his memory and left a profound nostalgia, for the following description is to be found in his Eastern voyage: The Mezher castle of the Sheikh of Hammana surpasses in elegance, grace and nobility all that I have ever seen of its kind. … it may be compared only to one of our most marvelous Gothic castles of the Middle Ages.”

In 1933 a French mission went to Hammana to place a commemorative plaque showing Lamartine in bas-relief. It was fixed in the room where the great poet had slept.

Hammana is a crossroads which points to the districts of the Metn and the Beqaa. In the past it was an important and prosperous center for the production of silk, whose textiles were exported to Tuscany and France. Now its town hall, infrastructure, clinics, public and private schools, sports and cultural clubs, telephone exchange and hotels make it a resort of distinction. A great Cherry Festival is celebrated in Hammana with much show, including a a procession of vehicles, but it must not be forgotten that the apple orchards also have greatly contributed to the prosperity of the region.

There are many springs of ordinary drinking and mineral waters, while a waterfall known as Shaghour Hammana is one of the curious features of the place.

The former large silk factory has been transformed and fitted up as a school such as those to be found in all the Christian centers of Lebanon. Churches are many, Saint John’s, Saint Savior’s, Our Lady’s, Saint Elijah’s, Saint Ramonos’, Saint George’s, and others, each quarter having its saint and holy patron, while there is even a mosque.

Restaurants, cafés and amusement parks abound and attract numbers of tourists. Hotels and boarding houses provide every comfort for holiday-makers, who come from Lebanon’s capital and from surrounding countries, their yearly arrival being a highly appreciated key factor in a center bustling with business and animation.

Joseph Matar - Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

- Hammana Mezher Palace: >> View Movie << (2010-08-01)


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