Beit Ed-Din, More than a House, Palace
Close to the town of Damour and only 12 miles away from Beirut is one of the most infamous icons of Lebanese architecture from the 19th century, Beit Ed-Din—or House of Faith, even though the literal translation is House of Religion. While it is technically a Palace built by Emir (a noble and military title) Bashir Chehab, it is still called a House.
Emir Bashir reigned over Mount Lebanon for half a century and was an extravagant guy. It is said that he was born into a newly converted Sunni Islam family (originally Druze). However, later on he became a Maronite which made him the only emir of that religion to reign over Mount Lebanon.
The palace was built over the course of 22 years and it took 3000 men working non-stop to achieve the final product. The wood was brought from Damascus and the marble from Italy in 1789. The palace has arcades decorated by outstanding artists in Lebanon. The ceilings and floors are pieces of art themselves rather than just parts of the house.
It's furnished with luxurious Turkish baths, glass stoudded cupolas, and water jets to prevent visitors from hearing the Emir’s private conversations in addition to refreshing the rooms.
30 years ago a mozaico was found in one of the gardens of the palace. It was a Byzantine piece surrounded by 500-year-old trees.Now it is a piece of art pinned to the ground and it is easily perceived from the second floor from a balcony.
One of the best views of the palace is on the side of the harem, a room for the women of the Emir. Its door was closed at all times and it was commonly understood that whomever entered saw nothing and heard nothing.
The palace has beautiful Arabic calligraphy with Islamic wisdom on its walls. A couple that I overheard said: “the head of wisdom is the fear of God” and “one hour of justice is better than a thousand years of prayers.”
The only real Maronite influence in the House of Faith is in one of the bathrooms, where glasses on the ceilings shaped in a cross allow the sun to light up the area. The way it was discovered—the tale says—was through the reflection on one of the eyes of a visitor. Today the lenses of the smartphones can capture this style not easily seen unless one looks up.
CAMES will drive us to Beit al Qamar now, but I will keep you posted about the best spots to visit in Lebanon.