Distance from Beirut: 114km
From Beirut, take Khalde Highway South passing through Khalde, Damour, Naame, Saadiat, along the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean sea,
Saidon, Ghazieh, Sarafand, Adloun,
Tyre, Qana, Marjeyoun, than across the Hasbani river go toward Hasbaya.
The Wadi El Taym is a long fertile valley running parallel to the
western foot of Mount Hermon. Watered by the Hasbani river, the low hills of
Wadi El Taym are covered with rows of silver-green olive trees, its most
important source of income. Villagers also produce honey, grapes, figs,
prickly pears, pine nuts and other fruit.
Mount Hermon, 2745 meters high, is a unifying presence throughout
the Wadi El Taym. This imposing mountain held great religious significance for the
Canaanites and Phoenicians, who called it the seat of the All High. The Romans,
recognizing it as a holy site, built many temples on its slopes. The Old
Testament refers to it as “Baal – Hermon,” while in the New Testament the
mountain is the site of the transfiguration of Jesus.
A Historical Site
Hasbaya, the capital of the Wadi El Taym, is an attractive town full
of history. A good deal of this history transpired at the huge citadel that is
today Hasbaya’s chief claim to fame. Owned by the Chehab emirs, the citadel
forms the major part of a Chehabi compound – a group of buildings surrounding an
unpaved central square 150 meters long and 100 meters wide. Several medieval
houses and a mosque make up the rest of the compound, which covers a total of
20,000 square meter. The citadel is situated on a hill overlooking a river which
encircles it from the north. A site steeped in mystery, the citadel is so old
its origins are uncertain and so big that even today no one is sure how many
rooms it contains. The known history of the structure begins with the Crusaders,
but it may go back even earlier to an Arab fortification or a Roman building.
Won by the Chehabs from the Crusaders in 1170, the fortress was rebuild by its
Since then it has been burned many times in battle and was often the
scene of bloody conflict. Most recently, it was struck by rockets during the
Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. Amazingly, for almost all of the eight
centuries since it fell to the Chehabs, the citadel has been occupied by members
of the same family. Today actual ownership is shared by some fifty branches of
the family, some of whom live there permanently.
Visiting the Citadel
The building consists of three floors
above ground and three subterranean floors. Constructed in stages, often damaged
and rebuilt, today the sprawling structure incorporate a mix of styles, building
techniques and states of repair. The tower in the southwest corner and the
eastern wall-both visible from the third floor – are easily identifiable as
Crusader. Other medieval elements are arrow slit windows and
machicolations-small openings through which hot oil or missiles were dropped on
the enemy. Despite its primary function as a fortress, the castle also possesses
many graceful architectural features such as slender columns and arched windows
Entrance and First Courtyard.
Wide steps lead to the main entrance,
where the original Crusader door still swings smoothly on 800 year old hinges.
Four meters wide and three meters high, the passage allowed horsemen to enter
the castle without dismounting.
Stone lions, a heraldic emblem of the
Chehab family, decorate the wall on either side of the arched portal. Two large
lions are depicted in chains, each beside a weak, unchained rabbit. A set of
smaller lions appears within the arch above the doorway and just below that is a
plaque in Arabic commemorating an addition to the castle made in the year 1009
Hejira by Emir Ali Chehab some 400 years ago. Once through the portal, you enter
a huge stone paved courtyard surrounded by castle walls 1.5 meters thick. In
addition to the attractive windows, old balconies and staircases, the courtyard
has four main points of interest: a limited view of the dungeons, two important
arched entrenches and a wing once occupied by the Pasha of Egypt In a corner to
the right the main entry gate is the only glimpse the modern visitor will get of
the dungeons. Through a break in the wall one can look down on the room where
the ruler of the citadel once sheltered. If necessary, he could escape from here
through special tunnels: one leading to the Abu Djaj river north of the castle,
and the other to the mosque. Now closed off by the Lebanese Directorate General
of Anitiquites, the three subterranean floors posses their work own dark
history. Crusaders buried their dead here and prisoners were kept in its
During the citadel’s heyday the lower floors were also used to store
water and other suppliers, as well as to house animals. At the far end of the
courtyard is a wine arched opening set in a wall of alternating black and white
stone. This was the entrance of the “diwan” or salon of Sitt Chams, wife of
Bechir Chehab II, governor of Mount Lebanon between 1788 and 1840. To the left
of the diwan is the wing occupied by ibrahim Pasha of Egypt during his campaign
against the Ottomans in 1838. Another, higher entrance, in a wall of yellow and
white stone, once gave onto a Crusader church, which was long ago destroyed. The rooms
surrounding the lower courtyard, including what was once the stables, are now
used for storage.
Overlooking the modern village of Hasbaya in south Lebanon, the
Chehabi Citadel occupied a strategic location for the armies of the First
Crusade, who are believed to have built the original fortifications in the
eleventh century. The strategically sited outpost was also used by the Chehabi
emirs, who ousted the Crusaders from the area in the 1170s and rebuilt much of
the citadel complex for military and residential use. Chehabi descendants have
continually occupied the site up until this day.
The 20,000-square-meter complex is centered around a large
unpaved courtyard and contains residential buildings and a mosque. Its main
portal features a carved image of a lion, the emblem of the Chehabi family.
Expanded and renovated over the course of some eight and a half centuries, the
building retains elements of Mamluk and Ottoman architecture and interior
Almost a millennium of occupation and war, combined with a lack of maintenance
and drainage problems have left the citadel battered, with portions of it in
danger of structural failure. A recent preliminary study of the conditions of
the complex revealed that load-bearing walls of the buildings and fortifications
are under stress and cracking. Some of the interior vaults and ceilings have
collapsed or are nearing collapse, and architectural and interior decoration
require additional assessment and repairs.
The Lebanese Foundation for the Preservation of the Emirs Chehabi
Citadel–Hasbaya, led by a member of the Chehabi family, has been established for
the purpose of conserving the complex. The foundation has raised some funds for
the study of its condition, but additional resources are required to address the
urgent stabilization of failing structures as a first phase of a long-term plan
for the conservation of this historically significant site. This includes its
eventual rehabilitation as a tourist attraction and cultural center that would
generate revenue sufficient to maintain it.
Information From the Ministry of