BEIRUT

Culture

The Chehabi Citadel

The cultural value of Hasbaya's Chehabi Citadel is multifaceted. The original fortifications are believed to have been built as early as the 11th century. The Chehabi Emirs took over the fortress when they kicked out the Crusaders in the 1170s. Descendents of the family have lived there ever since. That three families are still living there remains a contentious issue in terms of making aid available for the site's restoration, something Carla Chehab brushes off as a non-issue.

"It's always been a tradition in the family," she says, "their doors are open, for everybody, all the time, day and night." She says the residents would happily make room for ticket counters and other administrative services. Would they be willing to leave the site if that were a condition on a grant, that the site be unoccupied? "I don't think anyone would ask for that," says Chehab.

"It is a school of architecture," she adds. "Every government from the 12th to the 19th century built something there."

Arranged around a central courtyard and a mosque, the site features Medieval, Mamluk, and Ottoman architectural and decorative details, numerous frescoes and vaults, and a large wooden door bearing a carving of a lion, the Chehabi family emblem. The citadel is set near Mount Hermon, which has biblical significance, and is considered a pre-eminent Druze sanctuary. It also lies next to the Hasbani River, giving its location a strategic dimension due to the paucity of water resources in the region at large.

From 1962 to 1982, Lebanon's Director General of Antiquities (DGA) gave the citadel a maintenance allowance of sorts. Then, after a long absence, the DGA returned in 2000 (after the Israeli withdrawal, when Chehab established her foundation) to do excavations and assess the damage done to the site by time, weather, negligence, and war.

Chehab says the citadel needs $4 million for a total restoration, but "any amount would help. For the first step, we need $150,000 to consolidate [the foundation] and prevent additional walls from falling," she explains. "After that, we'll go wing by wing."

Chehab believes the WMF listing will help local and international donors feel more secure about contributing funds to the restoration project. She also believes the key motivation for giving should be the role the citadel could play in jump starting the economy of Hasbaya, which, like much of the South, still suffers from remnants of isolation and underdevelopment.

 

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