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Panoramic Views > North > El Minieh Dennieh > El Sfire Village

El Sfire Village (El-Sfireh)

It was one Friday, 19th March, feast of my patron saint, a day with a fair blue sky following the storm of the previous evening. We were taking the direction of the district of Dennieh in North Lebanon, following the highroad as far as Bakhour, where we turned into a local road that was rather narrow but at least good enough for a car. The view there was one of outstanding beauty, with terraces planted with peach trees, apricot trees, apple trees, pear trees, and the rest, all in full flower. In contrast the houses and various buildings were in bad taste, sometimes with as many as fourteen stories backing on to cliffs of fairy-tale beauty.

Soon we had left the main village of Sir behind us and were climbing up towards El-Sfireh. This ancient hamlet, now become a considerable built-up area, starts at an altitude of 900 meters and then reaches up to 1,200. On this occasion there was snow left from the previous evening, capping the white summits topping 1,800 meters and reminding me of certain scenes in the Alps. This short stretch of road with its more than twenty S bends and N bends demands some acrobatic driving, after which one enters narrow tracks where only one vehicle can pass at a time. One finally draws up in front of an elegant Greco-Roman temple, now a partial ruin, built in the time of the emperor Severius early in the third century; this explains the name, a corruption of Severius through Saferius and now Sfireh. The emperor remained four years in the region and here on a hilltop planted with clusters of oak trees this temple had been put up no doubt to commemorate his name. The temple is almost whole, lacking only the pediment and the cornice. It is rectangular, thirty meters by fifteen, made of huge blocks of stone hewn with great precision that form the walls. The façade is pierced by three doors, the largest of which, in the middle, is surrounded by molding, while the other two are smaller and narrower and without ornamentation. The one on the left leads to an inner flight of stairs hewn in the thickness of the wall and leading to the temple terrace, much like a labyrinth and a real feat of construction.

On the right side a small door gives access to a crypt which is as long as the temple is wide. To the right there are two rooms of the same dimensions as the temple but now in a state of complete ruin. Two columns still stand but their capitals lie on the ground, while among these ruins one also notices seats carved out of stone.

In the middle of the lateral wall one can easily decipher inscriptions in Greek, something which gives reason to believe that this temple one now sees was built on top of remains of a more ancient one. To arrive at the temple itself one goes up a long stairway four or five meters wide and quite long.

In the neighborhood one may see two other small monuments left from ancient times; a high hill overlooks the temple of Sfireh and the remains of ancient constructions such as altars and blocks with inscriptions are clearly visible.

Sfireh is 115 kilometers from Beirut. Its air is pure and cold, a polar cold that bespeaks snow. As well as the temple there is an old church, ancient cellars, a mosque and some very old houses, not to mention countless springs, hollows, strangely shaped rocks, stupendous cliffs, deep valleys and copses of pine and oak trees which happily are unconnected with any road, for the destructive hands of hunters and holiday-makers would have damaged them.

Sfireh is a place to see and to visit and recently there have been added a secondary school, a town hall, a small hotel and some dispensaries. On our way back home about midday the road was empty, except for a number of cars assembled every two hundred meters. The faithful, the believers, were gathered for the noon prayer of Friday, at the mosques of which there are many.

Joseph Matar

- El Sfire Village - The Temple: >> View Movie << (2010-03-01)


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