Beaufort Castle: From strategic military post to Lebanon's prized landmark

Date: Thursday, January 22, 2015
By: Mohammed Zaatari
Source: The Daily Star

ABATIEH, Lebanon: When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon stood in front of Beaufort Castle and, addressing his soldiers, said the edifice had secured a front for his men.
After the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from south Lebanon in 2000, Speaker Nabih Berri stood in front of the edifice too, to stress how it had become a symbol of resistance in south Lebanon.
Located at the highest point of Arnoun, in Nabatieh, the castle has long played a major strategic role in Lebanese military history. Sitting at an altitude of 700 meters above sea level, the castle oversees Palestine, the Golan Heights, the slopes of Mount Hermon, the southern coastal plain and the Litani River.

After decades and centuries of war and occupation, the castle opened its doors in 2007 to the public. A foundation stone was laid in 2010 after an agreement was signed between the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development with a budget of $3.5 million, of which Lebanon contributed $1 million. Refurbishment works began in 2011 and are set to conclude sometime this year.

The Beaufort Castle, which means beautiful fortress, has historically served as a strategic military position since 1139.
From the Phoenicians to the Babylonians, Assyrians, Roman and the Crusaders, all have commanded posts there at some point in time.

Arab travelers renamed the structure the Shafiq Arnoun Castle, and locals still refer to it as such.
Ali Badawi, head of the archeological sites in south Lebanon of the Directorate General of Antiques, explained how the refurbishment project was divided into three parts. The first he said required experts to conduct archaeological excavations.
"This was important for two reasons," Badawi said. "The first was to learn more about the castle's history by examining artifacts. Second, because you can't restore something until you've completed excavation."

The second part of the project required repairing the castle.
Badawi said the castle had seen its fair share of shelling over the years, especially by the Israeli army, who used the fortress as a center to launch attacks at one point.

The third step required experts to rehabilitate the castle so that it could welcome tourist, Badawi said.
Ever since the project kicked off in 2011, excavation took two years to complete and was conducted by a team of Lebanese experts, headed by Badawi. They unearthed many artifacts to add to the castle's pristine history. "We discovered new aspects to the castle that weren't apparent previously, especially its lower levels," Badawi said. These, he added, dated back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
"We found a large number of pieces that highlighted daily life inside the castle, such as pottery, glass pots and coins," Badawi said.

"As well we found numerous shells, iron bombs and new rockets that the Israelis used to shell the castle during the 1982 invasion, in addition to many metal arrowheads that go back to the period between the 12th and 15th centuries."

Most artillery was discovered by the castle's west wing, leading experts to believe this side had served as a historical military post and played a strategic role in many battles.
"Another important thing we discovered was the water storage system in the castle," Badawi said, adding that it was unique because of its high altitude and the difficulty in accessing the Litani basin.
The castle's architects created a "developed" water collection system that channeled rain water to the specialized storage units. The experts also found a sewage system to remove wastewater from the Beaufort Castle.

"Through excavation we began to understand how the castle evolved over time," Badawi said.
"We didn't excavate the entire castle; we left part of it for the next generation to discover, maybe with more developed techniques. We also left some of the Israeli rockets in their place to give others an idea of how the castle also played a role in modern history," Badawi said.

RestorationIn parallel to excavation, efforts to restore the castle are still in progress.
The damage inflicted on the castle largely resulted from military operations under Israeli occupation. The Israelis buried a trench around the castle and built military barracks to fortify their forces. Before withdrawing, they blew up the barracks, a move that left the castle in disarray.
Through excavation we began to understand how the castle evolved over time
"The main aim of restoring the castle was to preserve what was left of it," Badawi said. "As well as to rebuild some of what was destroyed."

Badawi stressed that efforts were made to preserve the authenticity of the castle by using similar stones and construction material. He added that most of the restoration work focused on strengthening the castle's walls, rebuilding cellars and fortifying the roof to prevent water leakage.
"Unfortunately, cleaning the castle's trenches of the remains of the Israeli post isn't complete due to the lack of enough funding, so this was postponed for a later stage," he said.
Touristic RehabilitationIn order to give it touristic appeal, a reception center for visitors was created. It runs documentaries about the castle and its history and also offers fliers, books, gifts and souvenirs. Trails were fashioned to make exploration easier for tourists.

Stone and metal staircases as well as handrails were installed. Dangerous areas were sealed off, and boards explaining the history of the castle in three languages were set up.

"We started working on this castle in 2010 with a group of engineers and experts, who were both Lebanese and foreign," said Ali Hayek, the engineer supervising the project.
Randa Berri, the head of the National Association to Preserve South Lebanon's Heritage, denounced the damage inflicted to the Beaufort Castle during the Israeli occupation.

"The measure of success for any sovereign nation rests on how successful it is in preserving its cultural and historic identity," Berri said.

She urged Culture Minister Raymond Areiji to raise awareness on the importance of protecting cultural and archeological landmarks in Lebanon. Berri also stressed the importance of continuing renovation works for major landmarks such as the Beaufort Castle.
"Modernizing Lebanon's archeological map by adding new landmarks allows Lebanese and foreign tourists to get to know them," Berri said.

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