is the architectural heritage of a people that reveals
its past history and all the riches of its culture.
Traditional Lebanese architecture bears witness
to a particular way of life that is a dialogue between
man and nature. Mtein, a sun-bathed village in the
Lebanese mountain, with its fine architectural features,
palaces and dwellings from different periods, serves
as a fine example. But what is typical of the village
is best seen in its central square, known as the
Mtein, “Mother of the towns of the Metn” according
to Father Martin in Histoire du Liban, 1888, is
one of the oldest villages in Lebanon. Human presence
there goes back at least to ancient Roman times,
said Maurice Fevret in 1950. But only in 1616 did
its public square become an import centre, when
Alam ed-Dine Bin Billama, a Moqaddam, installed
himself there. Later, in 1711 after the battle of
Ain Dara, the Abillama family, being on the side
of Emir Haidar Shehab, received the right to call
themselves emirs, princes, as a sign of gratitude.
They then divided the Mten district into three,
Emir Mourad making Mtein his seat.
At this time four palaces were built surrounding
the Square. This was an area of some five thousand
square meters where all the festivities symbolizing
seventeenth-century feudal power took place, and
right down to the middle of the nineteenth century
it was known as the Square of the Princes, Midan
el-Umara. As its Arabic name indicates, it was reserved
to the Emirs for major reunions, for military parades
and for horse races. Three features distinguish
it, the muqa’ed or stone seats for the Emirs, the
kiosk for the princesses, and finally the platform
at the porch of the Mir Mahmoud Palace near the
Court of Justice where criminals were hanged.
After 1860, with the abolition of the feudal regime,
the Abillama were unable to maintain their palaces,
and found themselves obliged to sell them to the
people of the township. In this way the Midan became
the public square of Mtein and henceforth served
as the center of village activity.
With the passing of time, local building construction
marked the square off, reducing its unexploited
space. The new architecture, whose style and forms
grew up quite spontaneously, stood out from the
context and style of the palaces. In 1975, 25% of
the built-up area of Mtein already surrounded the
square, which was served by the main road joining
the two Metn districts as well as by two secondary
roads and a foot walk.
Given its geographical situation and growing economic
activity, the Square became the natural meeting-place
for the locals. It was here that the seasonal festivities
took place, such as the zajal (sung poetic contests),
plays, musicals, official receptions and games –
which explains the admittedly delayed setting up
by the town council of a sports club, a music club
and a town band in the surrounding buildings.
It is a fact that, given its present state, the
general layout of the Square cannot be grasped straight
away and also that the surrounding historic structures
suffered much during the fighting of the 1980s,
but there are still quite interesting features to
be seen around. Here the entrance of a palace stands
in an extension of a minor road, while over there
a kiosk may be seen at a bend of the way between
the branches of a tree. Everywhere you find a pleasant
view or some unexpected feature, a place for leisure
or a place to meet people.
Today the Square is rich in history and architectural
treasures, offering many advantages for sightseeing
and for commercial, cultural and social activity,
and therefore deserves serious and special interest
for the preservation of its architectural and urban
heritage. While awaiting better days, is the old
Midan of the seventeenth century, testifying to
the birth of a true town planning, not worthy to
serve as an example or at least as an inspiration
now at the end of the twentieth century? (N.B.,
La Place de Mtein, text taken from the work of Architect
Issam Salameh, Mtein Image d’une architecture Libanaise
YEARS OF HISTORY IN MTEIN (MTAIN)
Nothing seems to me more appropriate that recounting
the history of Mtein in order to work out the dialogue
between spirit and matter that underlies the soul
of my village.
Through that living tool the photograph, this chapter
of our history will pass on part of our national
heritage and prove to be an authentic witness to
our Lebanese culture which unceasingly wages an
interminable war down the generations to find itself
one day where the peace brought by human culture
can take root.
As against the general background of the history
of Lebanon, the history of Mtein with all its feudal,
rural, industrial, educational and national variety
has never been thoroughly brought together. Its
alternation of politico-social epochs reflects a
rich moral culture and consequently a means of power
with a consequent harmony between rural and architectural
organization on the one hand and the social homogeneity
of four centuries on the other. These two elements
lead to a town plan perfectly in harmony with our
Several dates will serve as reference points for
deeper study of the society and culture of Mtein.
First date in the recorded history of Mtein. The
death of the first Emir Abillama of the Mourad branch
of the Abillamas in the presence of the Kantar family.
The Battle of Ain Dara and the beginning of the
feudal authority of the Abillama princes over Mtein.
The Akl and Kantar families face-to-face with the
Beginning of Mtein’s educational role with the foundation
there of St. Joseph’s monastery and school.
End of the feudal regime and beginning of the industrial
period. Mtein becomes the agricultural, commercial
and industrial center of the region, with seven
silk mills and twelve wine presses.
First World War, during which Mtein lost two-thirds
of its thousand inhabitants, half through death
and half through flight elsewhere.
Rebirth of Mtein’s educational role, with at least
four government and private schools.
The war in Lebanon ravaged Mtein, which lost many
of its people and 80% of its buildings.
is one of the most extensive land survey and municipal
areas in Lebanon
a true lesson in architectural experiment, embraces
the whole range of our building methods:
-The rectangular house with a beaten earth roof.
-The house composed of two rectangles, one with
a tiled roof and the other with a beaten earth roof.
-The two-floored square or oblong house with a tiled
-The house with gallery.
-The palaces in form of U or L or a square with
different kinds of construction express the culture
of the village people who maintain their values
in order to build their future and hew out their
refuges to safeguard their bodies and souls in a
rural setting reflecting their homogeneous community
culture around Mtein Square.