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The prince of the Druses pays a certain sum for his whole
country to the Grand Signor (the Ottoman Sultan), which consists of these mountains from
Sidon to Eibele or Byblus; and he resides at a place called Der-el-Kemer,
(The Convent of the Moon). The people pay for their lands to this
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
In a few words Pococke described the almost feudal system which was in place in Ottoman Lebanon. The Sultan appointed pachas (governors) to rule over large provinces of his empire, but very often he entrusted them with a large and uncontrolled authority in return for a yearly payment in money and commodities. The pachas in turn assigned parts of their territories to local chiefs in return for a similar payment. The system was fiscally oppressive and at the same time it favoured the splitting of the Empire into small local fiefdoms, because many pachas managed to acquire a de facto hereditary right on them. Deir al-Qamar was the residence of one of these local rulers, who had the title of emir which indicates a military commander, but also a monarch, e.g. the Emir of Bukhara.
Deir al-Qamar seen from Beiteddine (with campaign posters for the May 2018 Lebanon's general election)
March 19th, 1812 - The town of Deir el Kammar is situated on the declivity of the mountain at the head of a narrow valley descending towards the sea. It is inhabited by about nine hundred Maronite, three hundred Druse and fifteen or twenty Turkish families who cultivate mulberry and vine plantations and manufacture all the articles of dress of the mountaineers. (..) The Emir Beshir has a serai here. (..) Half an hour from Deir el Kammar on the other side of the valley lies Beteddein.
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt - Travels in Syria and the Holy Land - 1822.
The sun was just rising when we went through Deir el Kammar: troops of mares and camels issued from the courts of the houses and spread themselves over the unpaved quarters and streets of the town. On a wide open square some black tents of a vagabond race (zingari - Italian for gypsies - ) were erected; men, women and children, half-naked or enveloped in the immense blankets of white wool which is their only garment were huddled round a fire combing their air or searching after the vermin which were feeding on them. Some Arabs in the service of the emir passed on horseback in their magnificent costumes with superb arms stuck in their belts and holding a lance twelve or fifteen feet long in their hands.
Alphonse de Lamartine - Travels in the East - English edition by William and Robert Chambers - 1839.
Saydet at Talle (Our Lady of the Hill), a Maronite Church: (left) interior; (right) a modern painting highlighting the Seven Sorrows of Mary and the Five Wounds of Jesus, a reference to the Christian inhabitants of the town who were killed in 1860 and were buried near the church (see below)
The name of this town signifying the Monastery of the Moon originates in a convent which formerly stood here dedicated to the Virgin who is generally represented in Syria with the moon beneath her feet. Burckhardt
According to tradition the church was built on the site of a temple to a goddess associated with the moon e.g. Astarte or Isis, but the Christian iconography of the Virgin Mary standing on a crescent is not peculiar of Lebanon or Syria, but is frequent in Rome too (see the statue of Colonna dell'Immacolata). The church was redesigned and renovated many times.
Main square: (above - left to right) Emir Youssef Chehab Seray, mosque and Silk Khan; (below - left to right) Silk Khan and Fakhreddine Palace
The Druses are esteemed men of courage, and of greater probity than any others of these eastern parts. As they, and their prince, are protectors of the Christians that live among them, so they seem to have the best opinion of Christians, and the greatest regard for them; tho', in reality, it is to be feared that they have little or no religion at all. (..) They have among them a sort of religious persons, whom they call by the name of Akel; these drink no wine, and will not eat any thing that belongs to the prince, because, they say, it is rapine; they have private places under their houses for their ceremonies of worship; and I was informed, they do not perform any openly, except reading out of their books over the dead, before they are carried to burial, though, as to this, I much doubt my authority. These religious people meet together in their private places, and seem to be rather like the wise men, or philosophers of old, than the chief persons of a religion, in a community that has little or none. I rather think if these in particular have any, that they are worshippers of nature. Pococke (read Burckhardt's description of the Druze religion).
Details of Fakhreddine Palace
The emir Faccardine (Fakhr-al-Din Maan II 1572-1635) was in the reign of sultan Morat, the
fourth emir, or prince of the Druses; a people supposed to have descended from some dispersed remainders of those Christian armies, that engaged in the crusades, for the recovery of the Holy Land:
who afterwards, being totally routed, and despairing
of a return to their native country again, betook
themselves to the mountains hereabout; in which
their descendants have continued ever since. Faccardine being, as I said, prince of these people, was
not contented to be penned up in the mountains;
but by his power and artifice enlarged his dominions down into the plain all along the sea coast as
far as Acre. At last the grand
seignior, growing jealous of such a growing power,
drove the wild beast back again to the mountains,
from whence he had broken loose; and there his posterity retain their principality to this day.
Henry Maundrell - A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter - 1697
The Druses occasionally profess themselves Mahometans, but go as seldom as possible to their mosques, which
they do only to enjoy the privileges of the established religion; and I
have been informed, that in some of their books that have accidentally
been found, they both blaspheme our Saviour, and speak evil of Mahomet. Pococke
An inscription in the portal indicates that the mosque was built in 1493 during the long reign of Mameluke Sultan Qait Bey who is known for having promoted the construction of mosques and medreses (e.g. at Jerusalem and at Damascus) and of a fortress at Alexandria. The inhabitants of Deir el-Qamar were either Druzes or Christians or Jews, but Emir Fakhr-al-Din and his successors had many Muslims guards and they received visits from high Muslim Ottoman officers, so the mosque was always properly maintained.
Portal of Younes Maan Palace
Younes Maan was a younger brother of Fakhr-al-Din II and he acted as regent during the self-imposed exile of the latter in 1613-1618. Fakhr -al-Din, in order to free himself from the Ottoman control, sought foreign alliances and he established relations with Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany, an ambitious man who promoted military expeditions against Ottoman corsairs. This connection aroused the suspects of Sultan Ahmed I and Fakhr-al-Din chose to leave Lebanon. He spent two years in Tuscany (where he was known as Faccardino) and three years in Sicily, at the time a Spanish possession. The death of the Sultan in November 1617 allowed him to return to Deir al-Qamar; he failed to find allies for a war against the Ottomans in his journey abroad, because the European nations were about to be entangled in the Thirty Years' War. In 1633 an Ottoman army led by Kušuk Ahmed Pacha, governor of Damascus, invaded Lebanon and defeated that of Fakhr-al-Din who surrendered. He was imprisoned in the fortress of Yedikule at Constantinople where he was strangled in 1635.
Silk Khan (1595)
The place seems to be tolerably well built and has large Bazars. The inhabitants of Deir el Kammar are particularly skilful in working the rich Abbas or gowns of silk interwoven with gold and silver which are worn by the great Sheikhs of the Druses and which are sold as high as eight hundred piastres a piece. Burckhardt
Deir el Kammar is the capital of the Emir Beschir and the Druzes; it contains a population of ten or twelve thousand souls. But Deir el Kammar possesses no feature of a town, still less of a capital; it is very similar to a little town of Savoy or Auvergne or to a large village in a distant province of France. Lamartine
Fakhr-al-Din ruled over a large territory, but Deir al-Qamar was a small town and so he tried to increase its population and importance by building a large caravanserai to attract merchants. A small souk is located behind the mosque.
Emir Ahmed Chehab Palace aka Sheikh Gergis Baz Palace (1755): (left) portal; (right) hammam
The Maan family ruled over the Chouf region until 1697 when they were replaced by the Chehab or Shihab family, kinsmen by marriage. The latter expanded their control on other territories, but their authority was often challenged by Druze clans or curbed by the Pachas of Damascus whom the Sultans always chose among their most trusted officers, because the city was the starting point of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. The Chehab often relied on the support of the Maronite Christians and some members of the family were Maronites. To retain their power they had to strike a balance between the interests of the Druzes and of the Maronites and at the same time they had to be careful not to displease the Sultan who was also the Caliph, the supreme religious and political leader of the Muslims (Fakhr al-Din was accused of denial of Islam and sympathy toward Christians).
Emir Youssef Chehab Seray seen from the terrace above the Silk Khan
The main palace of Deir al-Qamar is called Seray with reference to the Topkapi Sarayi of Constantinople. It was initiated by the Maan, but it was enlarged and completed by the Chehab. In addition to private apartments and lodgings for servants it housed a small barracks. It was the residence of the Emirs until a Grand Palace was completed in 1818 by Beshir II at nearby Beiteddine.
Emir Youssef Chehab Seray: portal (very similar to that at Beiteddine Palace)
From an architectural viewpoint the portals of the palaces of Deir al-Qamar have a distinctive Mameluke character because of their alternate bands of white and coloured stones which can be seen in many Mameluke buildings, e.g. at Jerusalem. The Ottoman style did not actually leave a major mark in this region which was always ruled by local dynasties. The lions were the heraldic symbols of the Chehab and they were depicted tied with a chain and in the same coarse manner which can be noticed at Tokat. Muslim commanders often adopted a lion as their standard, e.g. Ahmed Ghazi Mentese at Becin Kalesi.
Emir Youssef Chehab Seray: a hall of the interior and a detail of its ceiling
In 1840 a conflict arose between the Ottoman Sultan and Muhammad Ali Pacha, the de facto ruler of Egypt. Emir Beshir II Chehab sided with Muhammad Ali, but placed his bet on the wrong horse. British and Ottoman forces landed on Lebanon's coast and forced him to surrender. In 1842 a Double Qaimaqamate (Government) was created in the territories of the Chehab. One governor was a Maronite and ruled over the northern district, which included Kesrouan, the other governor was a Druze and ruled over the southern district which included Deir al-Qamar.
In 1860 the new system failed to prevent an all-out war between Maronites and Druzes. 2,000 Maronites were gathered in the courtyard of the palace and then killed. This massacre led to a French intervention. You go to assist the Sultan in bringing back the obedience of his subjects who are blinded by the fanaticism of a former century. (..) Show yourselves the worthy children of those who once gloriously carried into that country the banner of Christ. Emperor Napoleon III stated in an address to the troops. The bodies of the Maronites killed at Deir al-Qamar were eventually buried at the side of Saydet at Talle.
Emir Youssef Chehab Seray: details of the elaborate marble and marquetry decoration of the interior (also in the image used as background for this page)
The ethnic cleansing caused by the war had effects also on the Druzes who lived in mainly Maronite regions. Some of them migrated to Hauran, a region of southern Syria, and to the Golan Heights where still Druze villages and small towns can be found.
After having been used for a variety of purposes the palace was restored and it now houses the Town Hall.