the Chosen One! The place was called Mukhtara because
Sheikh Abirabah Junblatt, the grandfather of the seventeenth-century
Sheikh Bashir Junblatt, in 1663 had chosen the site
for the construction of his palace on top of the ruins
of a Roman citadel. The Shehabs were emirs, princes,
while the Junblatts were sheikhs or chieftans. As
well as “chosen”, Mukhtar means also a mayor and mukhtara
is the feminine form of the word.
Mukhtara is in the Shouf region of Lebanon in the
heart of the mountains some thirty miles (56 km.)
from the capital Beirut at an altitude of rather over
2,500 feet (825 meters) and is a village with some
very interesting remains. In it are to be found a
number of typical houses of traditional style and
many noble residences. The most representative is
that of the Junblatts, a building whose present fabric
goes back to the year 1663 and which shows both oriental
and Italian influence.
This palace was built on top of very ancient remains
and was restored in 1842 after the conflicts that
opposed the Junblattis to Emir Bashir the Great. In
1788 the young Sheikh Bashir Junblatt had become the
richest feudatory lord in the mountains around.
Today this palace stands out by reason of its fine
façades and openings, its stained glass and
its windows with arcades of marble. In 1810 this same
young Junblatt rivaled Emir Bashir Shehab II in both
riches and power, arousing the jealousy of the latter,
for the Emir did not possess great wealth. The fortune
of the Junblatti family was derived from silkworms
and from the control the young Sheikh Bashir exercised
on the revenues in the mountain region, with which
he made good the deficit incurred by the Emir.
In both 1800 and 1820 there was close collaboration
between the two men, with Sheikh Bashir providing
Prince Bashir with the money needed to satisfy the
greed of the Turkish pashas. The Mukhtara palace became
the venue for solemn celebrations and hospitality
without precedent and its beauty surpassed that of
Beiteddine, residence of the Emir.
But in 1825 Prince Shehab launched an attack on Mukhtara
and destroyed much of the palace. It was only after
the end of the reign of the Prince that the palace
was rebuilt, in such a way that the Italian and the
oriental influences were joined in harmonious union.
In Mukhtara there is real social harmony, for Maronites,
Greek Catholics and Druze all get on very well together
and work for the common good. There are two churches
dedicated to Our Lady, one belonging to the Maronites
and the other to the Greek Catholics. There are many
caves, ancient bridges, old mills, and olive-oil presses.
Among the old winding alleys and the old street of
shops in Mukhtara there is also a Makam, or Druze
house of prayer.
As for the surroundings of Mukhtara, nothing could
be more scenic, with the river, the gully, and the
hills. Restaurants, cafés, a club, a special
restaurant at the river source, all these are to be
found. In fact Mukhtara is a spot for sightseeing
that all must visit.
Valley of Mukhtara and the Valley of Barouk
To speak of Mount Lebanon is to speak of the region
embracing the mountain slopes from Kesrouan to the
Shouf. Kesrouan of the Heroes alone once covered nearly
half this area but two thirds of what are now Jbeil
and half of North Metn were transferred. The Shouf
also represents some half of the remainder, namely
South Metn, Aley and the Shouf properly so-called.
In this Shouf there used to be found all the administrative
centers of the emirs and governors, who controlled
a territory stretching from Jazzeen in the south to
cover Mount Lebanon with its superbly beautiful mountain
of Sanneen, rising up like the front of the Parthenon
The region has abundant water, with springs, rivers,
water falls, valleys, bridges, water mills, and tracks.
The Barouk spring is a powerful source giving water
to towns, villages and hamlets and irrigating great
areas of cultivated land. Along the Barouk valley
one finds bridges and water mills which, though several
hundred years old and long totally abandoned, are
still standing solid and firm. They are a witness
to the skill of our ancestors, for to build a bridge
supposes a wide range of abilities, good technique
and an eye for the lay of the land.
An excursion along the Barouk valley is a journey
through Paradise. The beauty of the scene on every
side is beyond description, the work in harmony of
Nature and of Man, master creator and magician. There
are centuries-old trees and a rare freshness in the
air, for pollution has not yet reached the summits.
In the pure atmosphere one seems to be in a land of
One bridge deserves particular mention, constructed
with arches and joining the two sides of the valley.
The central span is the key support of the whole architectural
system. The bridge allows the movement of people on
foot and of flocks as well as of troops of donkeys
and mules. Further, it has a canal for water used
for irrigation and so was a vital element joining
the village on the two banks of Barouk river.
One of the other bridges is known as the Bridge of
the Bride, built in the time of the Mameluke rule
in the year 913 of the Hegira, 1507 of the Gregorian
calendar. It bears an inscription clearly engraved
that gives the date of its construction. It is considered
as having been of capital importance for communication
between the North and the South in Lebanon. The road
it bears joins up several villages and also connects
the valley of the Barouk with that of the Awali river
on the eastern and western sides. According to the
old custom, every new bride was bathed in the basin
of water by the bridge, so giving the bridge its name.
One can feel oneself to be in a dream world as one
wanders about this valley, discovering its sublime
beauties and breathing its air.