Beiteddine was build to give pleasure to the eye. A palace surrounded with gardens, adorned by beauty, shining with apparent and hidden splendors. During the day, the marble throws its clear light, which invades the black corners that the shadows blacken. At Night, the stars wish to rest amidst its picturesque courtyard.
Visiting Beiteddine palace feels like going to a sanctuary of some kind. One of the highlights of the Chouf Mountains, it sits majestically on a hill surrounded by terraced gardens and orchards. Its name means ‘House of Faith’, acknowledging the older Druze hermitage that originally occupied the site.
This masterpiece of early 19th century Oriental architecture was built by emir Bashir Shihab II, who was at the height of his power, between 1788 and 1818, after coming back very inspired from a trip to Florence. He brought back Italian architects with him and set on building a very fine dwelling with the help of the best artists and artisans of the area (Damascus and Aleppo). They were given much freedom, so its style is a cross between traditional Arab and Italian baroque. In order to keep his palace a one-of-a-kind, it is said that the emir cut off the architects’ hands after the palace was built. It would take thirty-six years to complete this masterpiece.
After 1840, when Bashir was sent into exile the palace was used by the Ottomans as a government building. During the French mandate, its role was preserved and it served as a local administrative office. In 1934, it was declared a national monument. In 1943, Bechara El Khoury, the first Lebanese president, declared it the official president’s summer residence. Destroyed during Israeli invasions, the palace was renovated in 1984, it’s estimated that up to 90% of the original contents were lost during this time.
The palace and its rooms and courtyards feature beautiful arcades, fountains, facades, carved cedar wood ceilings, antique furniture, inlaid marble and fine mosaics. Divided into three main sections, the first part includes the large courtyard, midan, and a two-story wing originally used for receiving guests. In the middle section of the palace you’ll find the apartments of the Hamadeh Sheikhs of the Chouf, who were responsible for palace security. The reception wing, made up of a waiting room and a hall, is by far the most ornate in the palace, with mosaic floors and walls covered with carved marble, sculptures and inscriptions. The third part is the Dar el-Harim, where rooms that are exquisitely painted, look out on to delightful terraces, while slender columns support the roofs of the galleries lending to them. The Hammam, one of the most beautiful in the Arab world, is located here as well. In the handsome restored stables you’ll find a display of mosaics, the largest of which come from a Byzantine church in Jiyyeh, south of Beirut. Not far from the mosaic museum is the hermitage, or khalwa, a place of religious seclusion for the Druze, which is much older than the rest of the palace.
The three hundred meters long complex is extremely refined but also delicately imperfect, with none of that stiff ceremony that often plague royal buildings. All of art has offered it its beauty. It’s a palace in which magnificence is shared among its ceiling, its floor and its four walls. Its soft colors, the local blond stone married to the faded pinks and the tender blues and greens, all add to its magic, where water and marble seem to be one, without letting us know which of them is flowing. Overlooking serenely the Chouf Mountains and its valleys, this national treasure rests there indifferent to its past, its present, and its future.