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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Kesserwan > Aintoura School

Aintoura of the Sun

How is it possible to sum up the four hundred years of history covering this site and this school with its illustrious past, tormented yet fertile in culture and humanism? How can one describe Aintoura, The Mountain Spring? It is a village ensconced in one of the most beautiful regions of Kesrouan, heart of the Lebanese mountains, Maronite for the greater part, haven of peace and of welcome. From its hills and valley rise sparkling streams to water the terraces, the kitchen gardens, and the groves of almond and olive trees, vineyards, and stands of carob and pine.

Aintoura borders on Zouk, so one may count belfries, churches, convents, priories, silk looms, local pastry bakeries and artisan workshops by the score. Aintoura was one a cluster of a few houses around a central street, a convent of cloistered nuns, and a religious house destined in due course to become a college and one of the most distinguished schools in Lebanon and the whole Middle East.

Founded in 1625 by the Jesuits from their foundation in Aleppo, like the other mission in Damascus, Aintoura is an oasis of peace in the mountains of Lebanon, thanks to the generosity of Sheikh Abu Nawfal Khazen, a great friend of the missionaries and Consul of France in Beirut. It was intended as a house of repose and as a parish center under the patronage of Saint Joseph, whose stature still adorns the frontal façade.

After scouring even the most distant regions, the Reverend Fathers would come back here to have some rest and to recuperate their energy, at the same time carrying on extensive activity in the region around, teaching, giving lessons of catechism, preaching retreats, doing work of different kinds, helping with the First Council of Lebanon at Louaizeh in 1736, founding seminaries, religious houses, and confraternities of the Holy Rosary, right up to 21st July, 1773.

The house was abandoned but then taken over by the Lazarist Fathers in 1783 by a decree in 1783 of King Louis XVI of France. The first Lazarist period lasted until 1834, when the mission was reorganized and the present school created by the father superior Monsignor Leroy with the help of the famous Consul of France Monsieur Guy.

Aintoura was the first secondary school in the Levant, the first lay college, the first ecumenical school taking in pupils of every religion, and the first international college in the East taking in the young from all the surrounding countries. During periods of civil war, massacre and Ottoman occupation, the doors of the college remained always open, while thousands of refugees and destitute persons were welcomed and cared for.

Aintoura become one of the first centers where education flourished, producing individuals of great talent, physicians, men of letters, clergy and politicians, all having studied in this lighthouse of learning. All the prominent personalities strove to place in it their most gifted children. The Lazarist Fathers formed the future citizens and under the mandate of the “Mutassarif” governors prepared the generations of the Lebanon that was to come.

Total illiteracy was rare in Lebanon and even before Aintoura there were simple but lively schools teaching the basics under the spreading branches of oak trees and on the benches of the churches. All, or nearly all, the children passed some time acquiring a little learning, while some were able to continue their education in church seminaries or under the guidance of “Masters”.

But Aintoura was more than a school. It was a meeting ground for travelers and orientalists, for all the diplomats, men of religion, delegates, military men of rank, consuls, pashas and princes. It was a place of pilgrimage open to the young, to scholars of every religion, a center of outreach and of activity and of formation, it was a college with a soul, a heart beating to the rhythm of all that went on in Lebanon. It was a college that was bound up with all the stirring life of Lebanon, and at Aintoura all were at home in a tolerant climate of nonpolitical openness, where one breathed the air of freedom, love and charity.

All orientalists and learned voyagers were drawn to visit there on their way. If one wanted to take note of all the names, the list would be too long, but one may mention at least Volney, Jean de Roque, Robinson, Lamartine, Gérard de Nerval, Poujailat, Renan, le Comte de Paris, Barrès, Henri Bordeaux, Pierre Benoît, Dubamol, Beaufort, Gouraud and Weygand.

As the first secondary seat of learning in all the Middle East, by the education it gave it rivaled the greatest schools of France itself, forming the greatest men of the nation in every domain, members of parliament, ministers, men of prominence in their communities, and the sons of consuls and diplomats. Documents, manuscripts, books and papers concerning Aintoura abound.

Since 1834 and particularly since 1950 to the present day, Aintoura Village has spread in all directions and flourished, with its houses now forming one agglomeration with those of Zouk and Jounieh, for in fact all Kesrouan now has become one suburban sprawl.

On the north side of Aintoura is the famous convent of Hrash for cloistered nuns. To the northwest there is the Maronite Patriarchate, while in the surroundings there are many religious houses, among them that of Saint Elias for nuns who used to be strictly enclosed. Originally the people of Aintoura were few, and the present inhabitants have come from far and wide, from North Lebanon, from Beirut, from Jbeil, and from the heights of Kesrouan.

The famous Tanios Shahine, leader of the Lebanese Peasant Revolt of 1850, was inspired by Aintoura after having tended the property of the Lazarist Fathers at Reyfoun, as well as being inspired by the French Revolution.

Today this famous scholastic establishment has been enlarged and brought up to date; with a day-school having its fleet of buses and vans, it covers the region and has 3,800 pupils, 350 teachers, 135 workers and 75 drivers, all under the direction of the dynamic young Father Nakad.

Joseph Matar
Translation from the French: K.J. Mortimer

- Aintoura School: >> View Movie << (2012-03-01)
- Aintoura School: >> View Movie << (2012-03-01)



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