This is to be found just south of Beit Meri, 15km
from Beirut. Here was the first place of worship to
be set up on this hill since the time of the Phoenicians,
standing on the remains of the temple of Baal Markadi,
one of their great gods. The different peoples who
in turn occupied the coast all built temples dedicated
to their particular deities according to their respective
In 64 B.C. the Romans came and replaced the Greeks,
extending their power over vast territories in the
East, confirmed by Augustus, absolute master after
his defeat of Mark Anthony and his wife Cleopatra
at the battle of Actium. The site in question was
very agreeable to the Romans, who made it a center
of prayer and worship, constructing a great temple
which retained the name of Baal Markadi as well as
smaller temples surrounding it.
When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity,
he ordered the demolition of all the pagan temples,
replacing them with places of worship dedicated to
the one true God. Then in A.D. 550 came the violent
earthquakes which destroyed many of the edifices along
the coast, not sparing the Monastery of the Citadel.
The word Baal means a lord and the word Markadi a
quake, the compound name being used in the Bible to
indicate the divine power (Job 9” 5).. It was associated
with the numerous offerings made in the name of emperors,
military men and civilian officials. The Romans assimilated
Baal Markadi to their god of similar power and force,
namely Jupiter. In Aramaic, the name means God of
the Dance. Mentioned in Genesis and represented in
several carvings in the stones of the temple, he is
the god who shows his force by making the earth tremble.
This particular temple was greatly esteemed and believers
came from far and near on pilgrimage. Elsewhere on
the coast, this same god was known as Melkart, God
of the Cities. The cult of the gods of the dance was
in fact the cult of the forces of nature and the priests
who officiated at the altar performed ritual dances.
When the grapes were brought in to the wine presses,
the believers venerated Bacchus, god of wine, with
dancing and singing, as indicated by the many wine
presses in the old town that surroundes the monastery.
The main temple was built during the 2nd century A.D..
Of Roman architectural style, it was 42 meters long,
18 wide and 14 high, with a wooden roof. On the façade
there were six columns, 7.20m high, 5.50 round and
weighing 51 metric tons. Several other temples were
put up some 300m away, one of them dedicated to Juno,
wife of Jupiter and daughter of Saturn. In addition
to the temples, a great city called Bayte, now Beirut,
was laid out to be the political residence of the
At the beginning of the road leading to the monastery
Roman thermal baths have been discovered of excellent
workmanship. Central heating was provided by terra
cotta pipes and by heat stored in jars of the same
material manufactured down on the coast. The baths,
intended for public use, were supplied with water
from reservoirs placed higher up. There are also traces
of a 6th century Byzantine church with mosaics highly
colored and well executed representing a cross.
This place is one of great beauty and draws tourists
coming from Lebanon and from the four quarters of
the globe. From 800 meters altitude one has a view
all around of mountains and sea, with every rock and
stone bearing witness to a glorious past.
B.The Monastery of St. John of the Citadel
The present monastery built on a part of the temple
dates back to the year 1748, the Citadel property
having been given to the Anthonite Order of monks
by Emir Youssef Mrad Abi Allamah for the construction
of the Monastery of Beirut, as Beit Meri was known.
The first stone was laid in 1747 by the monk Simon
Arida of Katalat, followed by Superior General Father
Ibrahim Aoun of Roumieh in the Metn, who went to Rome
to collect funds. They first made an extensive cellar
stretching south from the church to the refectory
over which rooms were built together with a large
vaulted hall. The monastery was built right on top
of the remains of the Citadel.
However, the actual church near the monastery stands
over the wall of the great Baal Markadi temple, and
is 32m long and 16m wide. The date of its construction,1762,
is engraved over the west door, together with the
name of the founder Ibrahim Aoun. Before this church
was built, the monks used to pray in the chapel dedicated
to St. Anthony.
Under the monk Timothaos of Beit Meri, work began
on the west basements.. The passage was undertaken
by the monk Philip el Hajj Boutros. In 1891, under
the administration of the monk Simon el Beabdati,
who rearranged the rooms and the cellar, he built
a large reception hall and covered both the old and
the new parts of the monastery with tiles. He put
a dome (((belfry?))) over the church and purchased
the bell. The sacristy, like a chapel, was constructed
by Superior General Boutros el Tyah of Ghazir.
Mention must be made here of the monk Anthony Nehmetallah
el Maadi (1881-1954), who studied architecture and
sculpture in Belgium and obtained the Diploma of the
Ecole nationale de Beaux Arts de Paris. From 1912
he was official architect for the churches, altars
and belfries in Lebanon.
During the bloody events of the Lebanese Mountain
1840-1860, the monastery was twice ravaged by fire
according to the old monks, while the Ottoman governor
Jamal Pasha el Saffah (the Executioner) occupied the
place during World War I, burning the library and
obliging the monks to flee and take refuge in the
farm Ain el Baradeh el Shabounieh at Ain Saadeh, where
one may still see the church of Our Lady of the Annunciation.
The superior generals made the monastery their headquarters
from the time of Abbot Bernard Ghobeirah to that of
Abbot Aramouni, who preferred the monastery of Mar
Roukos in Dekwaneh in winter and that of the Citadel,
Beit Meri, in summer. Abbot Harika launched the tourist
festivals at the monastery, the first being in 1967,
under the patronage of President Charles Helou and
with the participation of the singer Wadih el Safi,
several poets and artists, and troops of performers.
1971 saw the inauguration of a festival of Zajal,
a form of poetry contest. During the recent civil
war, part of the monastery was demolished and Father
Elias Lotfollah was murdered. On October 14th, 1990,
two monks were seized and killed in mysterious circumstances,
the monastery superior Father Alobert Shirfan and
the monk Sleiman Abi Khalil.
From 1996, after many efforts, the Anthonine Congregation
began construction and repair of the damage caused
by the war and occupation by the many foreign troops
in order to restore the role of the monastery and
the beauty of this high eminence in Metn, long witness
to the history of Lebanon, always triumphant in its
mission to the East and to the world...
Since then the activities have gone from strength
to strength, with a school and a workshop for mosaic,
impressive exhibitions, and cultural and tourist events.
Buses with tourists arrive by the hundred, for the
concerts, competitions, exhibitions of painting, conferences,
youth gatherings, and literary and poetry evenings,
for which the old monastery has proved ideal.
For the 21st century, the community has great ambitions.
The monks are planning many activities and live in
perfect communion with their environment. The era
of the computer, the Web, and rapid communication
and exchange finds numberless new forms of expression
on the ground.
- Deir El Kalaa in Beit Mery,
monastery of the Citadel:
Movie << (2007-10-01)