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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > El Shoof > Deir El Kamar

Beit El Dine and Deir El Kamar

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 whole.

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.

Michael Woosman

- 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)



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