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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > El Shoof > Niha Fortress

The Niha Fortress

The name Niha is of Syriac origin, meaning calm, repose, or dreams. There are in Lebanon no less than three localities bearing this name, a mountain, a peak, and a village. To find them we must go the administrative district, or caza, of the Shouf, to a point nearly 4,000 feet high and first explore the fortress hewn out of the cliff face and poised between heaven and earth. The summit of Mount Sannine to the north reaches some 9,000 feet, while Niha Castle, Hosn Niha in Arabic, stands at a little over 4,000. The fortress is just forty miles from the capital Beirut and may be reached by turning south from the road to Deir el-Qamar.

There are many caves and grottoes on the side of the mountain. The troglodyte fortification we speak of was called Tyronís Cave by the Francs and Shqeef Tayroun by Arabic sources. The rock face in which it was carved out overlooks the valley of Bisri and Aray. As from this position one may watch the pass between Sidon (Saida) and the Beqaa Valley in the interior, the site is of strategic importance.

The fortress holds a fair number of silos and store rooms to allow the stocking of cereals and ammunition. It is thoroughly fortified and is faced with a rock wall pierced by openings. Passage from one level to another is made possible thanks to wooden beams buttressing the cliff. This citadel dominates the whole region and because of its situation is both strategic and impregnable. Cavities, rooms and corridors stretch over a hundred yards, hewn in such a way as to provide protection for the defenders. Other works served domestic purposes, for storing food and other provisions as well as munitions. Rain water is run into cisterns and wells and more water is drawn from the spring of Al-Halqoum. Here we have a citadel indeed, secured by fortifications and wall with its openings. It was built over several levels in a way allowing smooth organization. There are stands for horses, outworks to make access easy, , canalizations, and clay pipes to carry rain and spring water to the cisterns and basins dug out of the rock, a well, a deep trench, a kitchen, stairs and rooms as well as the silos for cereals and other foodstuffs.

The citadel was first mentioned in the year 975 A.D. and then again in 1133 when it was occupied by Dahhak ben Jandel al-Tamin. However, in the same year it passed from his hands to those of the authorities in Damascus. In 1165 the Crusaders got hold of it but after the partisans of Mussol entered into the fray in 1282 it was taken by the Muslim Amalek Saleh Ismaïl. In 1241 it came into the possession of the Crusaders again.

In 1251 the governor of Saïda led an army to retake the fortress and then in 1257 gave it to the care of the Teutonic Knights, who kept control of it for only a short time. In 1261 the Tartars invaded Damascus and sent Shehab ad-Deen Bahta to attack and destroy the fortress. In 1270 Baybar seized Damascus and ordered Niha Castle to be restored. In 1585 Emir Qorqmaz Mann took refuge there shortly before his death and in 1633 his son Emir Fakhreddeen II the Great hid in the fortress with his family, only to be seized and finally put to death in the year 1635.

The place is well worth a visit, for it breathes history and its walls are redolent of events of Lebanonís past.

Joseph and William Matar
Translation from the French : Kenneth Mortimer

- Niha Fortress: >> View Movie << (2014-08-01)



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