The great power struggles for supremacy in Lebanon
came to a head at the beginning of the nineteenth
century. In the year 1804, the Emir Bechir II, who
lived in the town of Deir el-Kammer shifted his headquarters
and built himself a new palace and residential complex
at a place not far away called Beit-Eddine. The new
site had the advantage of being perched on a promontory
overlooking the valley of the River Damour, which
made it impossible for anyone to approach without
being spotted while still far off. Moreover, the traditional
capital of Deir el-Kamar was still very close, and
the Emir was not in the least regarded as having deserted
the family fortress.
As was the custom of those days, the palace looks
rather ordinary from the outside: just a large country
house, one might think. But this plainness is deceptive.
For as one approaches, before one enters the gates
of the outer palace yard, one realizes that the whole
site breathes a purity that would not have shone through
anything more elaborate. Far from being drab the very
color of the stone implies strength and good solid
values. As one approaches closer, one sees that there
are in fact a number of decorative designs, which
are enhanced by the initial plain appearance of the
There is a huge vouter courtyard. On one side this
looks straight out over the valley; on the other side
rises the palace proper or part of it at least. This
particular section was originally reserved for guests
of the emirs. Hospitality has always been engrained
into the Lebanese character, and the custom was to
allow anyone passing through Beiteddine to stay here
for three days. During those three days the visitor
was not even obliged to disclose his identity or his
business. If he stayed longer than that, then discreet
inquiries were made as to who he was and what he wanted
in these parts.
The palace itself, the emir's residence and official
receiving-palace, has a simply enormous double door.
One of the doors itself has a little door cut into
it, for obvious reasons of convenience! This huge
doorway is famous indeed in the annals of Arab and
Oriental architecture. Above there is an inscription
exhorting the visitor to enter in peace.
Inside, one can wander about for hours. There are
sculpted designs, marble inlays, carved ceiling, a
remarkable set of baths, and overall an impression
of magnificent quiet, peace, and isolation from the
clatter of the world. There are gardens with tall
cypress trees, shady walls with cool stone benches
and gentle fountains. This was a place designed for
a king who knew how to live!
In all the reception halls and the rooms of the harem
area are inscription on the walls, most of them gentle
reminders of the true values. "An hour of justice
is worth a thousand hours of prayer," says one.
"Fear God, and you will begin to be wise."
declares another. Emir Bechir was known far and wide
for his just dealings with all men, regardless of
their station. Bechir in fact was a remarkable man-as
the man who built Beiteddine would have to be. A contemporary
traveler, who knew him well and stayed here a good
deal, wrote of his "Bechir was baptized a Christian;
he lives like Turk; and he will die like a Druse.".
This was quite a compliment, for it meant that Bechir
had managed to combine in himself the interests of
all members of the community at the time Stories about
his personal courage and strength of character are
legion. He managed to include at Beiteddine incidentally,
a church, a mosque, and a place of worship for the
third great Lebanese religious community, the Druses.
The Baths are perhaps the single most famous part
of the palace of Beiteddine. They are patterned after
the old Roman fashion. You pass from cold rooms to
rooms that get hotter and hotter and steamier rooms
where masseurs knead the dirt out and rooms where
the sweat pours of you. The baths are still in working
order, although they are not normally operating. You
can walk through the different rooms, however, and
you may be intrigued to notice that they are lit by
small semicircular windows set into the domed ceilings.
If you look carefully, you see that they resemble
nothing so much as a whole collection of bottlends!
Even today, Beiteddine is used as a palace. Here,
the President of the Republic has an official residence-which
is why certain parts of the palace are closed of to
the visitor. But everything of significance is on
view. Taste the simple grandeur of Beiteddine.
A couple of hours will be enough at Beiteddine. If
the architecture really gets to you, do the valley
a little to Deir el-Kamar, where you will find more
of the same, this time in town form. Beiteddine is
up the valley from the coastal town of Damour, which
is about fifteen miles south of Beirut. You might
combine a trip to Beiteddine with a drive to Sidon.
Or you might continue up the valley to Barouk, and
join the main Beirut-Damascus road at Mdeirj.
- Beit El Dine: >> View
Movie << (2001-09-01)
- Beit El Dine - Room of emir's minister, Boutros
Karami: >> View
Movie << (2012-12-01)
- Deir El Kamar: >> View
Movie << (2001-09-01)