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Panoramic Views > South > Jezzine > Serhal Palace

Serhal Palace, Jezzine - Work of a Superman

In 1956 I used to go the French Medical Faculty, mostly to the Anatomy Hall, which was under the direction of my friend the illustrious Professor Farid Serhal.

I studied and I made drawings; I studied the morphology of human bodies, forms and proportions. Dr. Serhal took an interest in my work, often telling his closest friends about me. “At Jezzine,” he said to me one day, “on the south-east side I have an extensive property. There are vineyards and fields, with a little house for my friends and a cellar for wine and arak.” He invited me, suggesting that I should paint a fresco on the wall of a room which gave out onto a terrace.

I had in mind a dance of Bacchus, God of Drink, or a dance of fairies under the vines. Ever since this early time the doctor and I had always been close friends. We remained in contact and I sketched for him certain anatomical illustrations, sometimes passing weekends in Jezzine, a beautiful region through which one may continue either to the Beqaa or in another direction to Nabatieh and Bint-Jbeil.

During 1961, 1962 and 1963 I was shuttling between Madrid and Paris in order to prepare my first University thesis. But in 1964 I was back in Lebanon and dropping in on old acquaintances. Doctor Serhal told me that his cellars and his house had been demolished and that in their place a “great palace” had risen. During our meetings he showed me his collections of hundreds of books that he had bought, on architecture, on Greek and Roman sculpture, and on all kinds of art, whether Byzantine, Arab, Italian Renaissance, French or Spanish. There were the most beautiful castles and palaces of Paris, the river Loire, London, Persia, Ancient Egypt, and Russia of the Czars. He collected also carpets with the signatures of known sources, antiques, old furniture, mosaics, opaline, sculptures, bronzes and paintings.

We went together on the worksite. A score of stonemasons labored there every day, exactly reproducing capitals, details, structures, reliefs, moldings, and projections. The doctor would constantly ask my opinion and we had much to discuss. Among other things, I made for him a scheme which the masons reproduced in stone, with the signs of the zodiac and much else.

Notice that I use the word stonemasons, not artist sculptors. This monument was a reflection of the dream, the vision, the fantasies, the imagination of the doctor, of his taste, his genius, his inspiration. It was truly a colossal undertaking. Finally he gave a grandiose reception, a dinner, with more than a thousand persons seated.

This palace was his life, his sole subject of conversation, his passion, his folly. The façade, the pediment, the entrance as of Heliopolis, all were on the grandest scale.

One day he asked me to accompany him and great was my surprise. All this work, this monument, had become simply a wing, one wing of a construction now attached to another wing by a magnificent central portal, so now the whole edifice had double the area. So here was this excellent surgeon, conscientious, bold, learned and generous. He operated on his patients early in the morning, going then to the Faculty of Medicine to be with his students and to care for the sick in addition to all his other activities and occupations. How often we went together to the antique dealers who kept especially for him a whole mass of art works and curiosities!

Doctor Serhal went around the antique dealers of Damascus, Aleppo, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. He was far-sighted; this surgeon transformed into a creative architect had the largest and most beautiful collection of narguilehs (water-pipes or hoogahs) of every kind, form, period and material. The same may be said for his vases of opaline, cut glass, paintings and sculptures.

Then in 1975 the disturbances began. Work slowed down on the project, to come to a dead halt a few years later as a result of the general situation and the passing away of the doctor himself. In the very middle of the troubles he called me by telephone, asking me to meet him in Beirut and to accompany him to Jezzine in his car, which bore the blue number-plate of a member of parliament. There was something or other that he wished to show me. We passed the night in an annex to his consulting-room in the center of Jezzine and got up early in order to visit the building-site and then return to Beirut.

Twenty years passed before I returned to Jezzine. I finally went there at the invitation of my old friend’s son, Doctor Camille. I felt overcome by emotion and nostalgia. Tears came to my eyes and I was speechless, having known the ground as it had once been and having then followed the steady progress of the construction of the palace, the overriding passion of Doctor Farid.

On two other occasions I traveled to Marjeyoun in South Lebanon. The driver took the route of Jezzine, from where the eye could behold a wide panorama. I was told that the Serhal Palace was now open to the sightseeing public just like Heliopolis, Beiteddine, Byblos and other tourist sites.

Our most impressive ruins date from great nations, empires and conquerors, but Serhal Palace saw the light thanks to one man alone, one who was energetic, a lover of his region, a visionary, holding back before no difficulty. Plotinus defined architecture saying, “Architecture is what remains once the stone has been removed...” What remains? There remain the ideas of the architect creator, his sensitivity, his conceptions, his genius, his breath.

If you go to Jezzine you will find that visiting the Serhal Palace is more than an experience, it is a prayer, a communion with the eternal soul of Farid Serhal.

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

- Serhal Palace - Exterior: >> View Movie << (2012-04-01)
- Serhal Palace - Interior: >> View Movie << (2012-04-01)



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