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
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
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
Joseph Matar - Translation from the French:
- Serhal Palace - Exterior: >> View
Movie << (2012-04-01)
- Serhal Palace - Interior: >> View
Movie << (2012-04-01)