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Architecture in Lebanon by Friedrich Ragette (Extracts from the book)

I- Influencing Factors

1- Geography

The Republic of Lebanon is situated along the eastern Mediterranean coast at 35' latitude, with a length of about 250 km and an average width of 60 km. The chain of Mount Lebanon determines the character of the country, for its position parallel to the coast controls climate and rainfall. Altitudes which range from zero to 3000 meters allow the existence of a varied landscape. The double mountain ranges and their increased aridity to the east have discouraged traffic with the hinterland, and to this day accentuate the western orientation of the coastal dwellers. Above all, the mountains' formation, carved by numerous deep valleys cutting across the western slopes, constitute a separating element which until recently hindered a centralized administration of the country.

It is not surprising, therefore, that large-scale architectural enterprises were undertaken during the rule of foreign powers, such as the Roman, and though these frequently reveal strong local characteristics, they are nonetheless of foreign origin. Independent Lebanese architecture is limited to residential construction and to modest religious and public buildings.

2- Geology and Natural Building Materials

During Jurassic Times, the Lebanon was covered by the sea which slowly deposited various sediments. In the Tertiary Period vigorous folds occurred, the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon range appeared and the sea receded.

The mountains consist of many strata, usually sandstone between limestone, and are cut up by numerous clefts. In the Kesruan and El-Meten district the gray upper layer of limestone has been eroded and the multicolored sandstone is exposed. In the north we find large deposits of basalt in a previously volcanic region. Because of the presence of many valleys and gorges all geologic strata are easily accessible. This has encouraged the decorative use of varying types of stone in Lebanese buildings.

The high plain of the Beqa'a, lying between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges, has alluvial characteristics. The deep soil is excellent for farming, and irrigation ensures a sufficient water supply. Because of the altitude of the plain (averaging 1000 meters), the adjacent mountains do not seem very rugged. The presence of clay and water in combination with a fairly dry climate allows the use of mud brick (adobe) construction.

The mountains of the Lebanon were originally the most densely wooded area of the Near East. The Bible extols the cedar as a symbol of strength and endurance; it is one of the saddest aspects of Lebanon that this wealth has been almost totally lost. For centuries, timber for construction has been limited to poplar, willow, walnut and maple, which grow along the riverbanks. When mulberries were planted during the time of silk production their wood was also widely used. In some areas there are also fairly large groves of pine trees. In swampy spots we find reeds, which have always been used with mud in construction. Another material is chaff, the residue from primitive threshing methods using sleighs. Mixed with clay or mud it acts as a bonding agent which prevents the formation of cracks.

3- Climate

The Yearly climatic cycle in Lebanon consists of rainy winters with snow down to 1000 meters, early spring with the last rainfall in May, four hot, dry summer months, and a mild autumn with little rainfall. According to the geographic structure, four climatic zones may be distinguished: coast, western slopes, high mountains and the Beqa'a plain. The following four figures give the climatic data for the four zones. Based upon this data we can characterize the climate as warm-moderate, and therefore eminently suitable for settlement.

By charting the above data on a bioclimatic diagram we can analyze the different zones. The bioclimatic diagram represents the physical comfort conditions for man, which depends on the following factors:

a- Air Temperature (ordinate): According to the seasonal disposition of the human body we distinguish between two comfort ranges, one for the winter and one for the summer. They are indicated as hatched areas.
b- Relative Humidity (abscissa): Next to the temperature the relative humidity is decisive for our comfort. Above 45 % the upper comfort limit is reduced.
c- Wind: Air motion increases the evaporation of moisture on the skin, providing thereby a cooling effect. Cross ventilation in buildings therefore increases the comfort range, particularly when high humidity is involved. However, air velocity must not exceed 90m/min. in order to avoid drafts.
d- Evaporation: Evaporation of moisture draws thermal energy from the air and reduces its temperature. Since the air must be able to absorb the added moisture, this process is only practicable at a relative humidity of 50 % or below.
e- Solar Radiation: Solar radiation (kcal/m2) can be used to heat buildings and during the sunny winter periods in Lebanon it effectively extends the lower margin of the comfort range (see right side of diagram). Above 21 C air temperature no additional solar radiation is desirable. This determines the extent of the need for shading. (Sky vault radiation is not considered in the diagram.)
f- Surface Radiation: If the radiation temperatures of space-enclosing surfaces are lower than the air temperature, they will increase the upper limit of the comfort range. If they are higher, the lower limits will be decreased. The temperature difference between air and surface should not be more than 1 C for colder surfaces, or 3 C for warmer surfaces. Related values are indicated on the left side of the diagram.

By superimposing the monthly mean temperature and humidity values over the comfort diagram we can judge the climatic condition of each year zone:

A- Coastal Zone, example Beirut
Daily maximum temperatures surpass the comfort limit from May onwards, and reach the work limit in August. Mean daily temperatures surpass the comfort limit from June till the end of September. Because of high humidity, cross ventilation is the only natural means of acclimatization. It is necessary to open buildings to the summer breeze from the southwest, to provide sun protection and sufficient thermal insulation. Heating becomes necessary in the winter during stormy periods without sunshine.

B- Medium Altitude on Western Mountain Slope, example Bikfaya
In July, daily temperatures surpass the comfort limit but never reach the work limit. Minimum temperatures always fall bellow the comfort limit. Insulation is therefore desired, shading is only necessary in summer. Heating is needed during the winter and the humidity requires good ventilation.

C- High Mountains, example Dahr el Baidar
Maximum temperatures reach the comfort zone only from June till September; mean temperatures always fall below the comfort limit. Insulation is needed all the year round; heating is a necessity.

D- Beqa'a Plain, example Rayak
This region is marked by high daily temperature differences. Mean daily temperatures reach the comfort zone only from June till September, mainly because of low night temperature. During summer the daily maximum can be overcome by protection from the sun and thermal insulation; the low night temperatures can be compensated for by storage of thermal energy in mass construction. The low humidity does not require much ventilation, but what is needed is protection against the strong winds, which are channeled in northern or southerly directions by the nearby mountains.

4- History

Although the oldest skeleton found in Lebanon is only 25.000 - 30.000 years old, frequent discoveries of flints indicate that Lebanon was already inhabited in the Stone Age - about 200.000 years ago. Shortly before the 3rd millennium the historical period begins with the invention of writing. The first historical inhabitants were the Semitic Canaanites, who also settled in neighboring Syria and Palestine.

Around 1200 B.C. the Achaeans invaded the Aegean islands and expelled the People of the Sea who fled eastward and merged with the Canaanites. The resulting people were called Phoenicians by the Greeks. Using the abundance of timber in the Lebanon, the Phoenicians became excellent shipbuilders and navigators. Operating from Byblos, Sidon, Tyre, Tripoli and Beirut, they extended the trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia to the whole Mediterranean and beyond to the Atlantic coast.

The founding of Carthage in 814 B.C. added a new Phoenician domain in the western Mediterranean and thereby strengthened the resistance of the Phoenicians against the Assyrian-Babylonian-Persian rule in Asia. Superb traders and seamen, the Phoenicians were able to retain a good measure of independence, but their defeat by Alexander the Great, when they formed the core of the Persian fleet defeat by Alexander the Great, when they formed the core of the Persian fleet, weakened their dominant position. During Hellenistic times trade between East and West flourished. In construction the coastal towns adopted Greek examples, but in contrast to Syria, Lebanon did not have room for new cities. Not until Roman rule did settlements begin to appear in the mountains, as indicated by numerous remains of temples and tombs. The early Christians in particular tended to settle in remote valleys, often carving their churches from the living rock.
In 551 A.D. devastating tidal waves and earthquakes destroyed the splendid coastal cities; in Beirut alone 30.000 people perished. Large parts of the towns were never rebuilt; they are still being rediscovered today.

In the 7th century the Arabs put a stop to the Christianization of the country, which had been nearly completed under Byzantine rule. While the first Omayads, Abd-al-Malik and al-Walid, were very tolerant, Abd-al-Aziz (710-20) introduced discriminating measures against Christians. The Lebanon became a refuge for the oppressed and dissatisfied. At the end of the 7th century the Maronites (after St. Maron, d.410) established themselves as an independent sect in the upper Kadisha valley, and from there extended their influence over the north Lebanese mountains. About four hundred years later, Muslim dissidents, now known as Druzes (after Nashtakin-al-Darazi, eleventh century), settled in the southern mountains. Towards the end of the 11th century the first Crusader army reached Lebanon. In 1099 Jerusalem was conquered, and in the first quarter of the 12th century the fortified coastal cities were taken by the Franks with the help of Italian ships. Sixty years of coexistence followed Saladin’s defeat of the Crusaders at the battle of Hattin. Around 1250 the decline of the Frankish empire began. First the Mongols devastated all the cities of the coast; then the Mamlukes expelled the Crusaders for good in 1289. During Mamluke rule a balance between Christians and Muslims was reached, and the Arabization of the country was completed.

From 1516 onward the Lebanon was under Ottoman rule, and developed into a stable feudal state. Two dynasties paved the way towards security, prosperity and religious peace: the Ma'ani and the Chehabi. The Ma'ani, a Druze family, under Fakhreddin I (d. 1544) and Fakhreddin II (1590 - 1635) strengthened agriculture, the silk industry and trade with Florence, Venice and France. In 1608 Fakhreddin II concluded a secret pact with the Grand Duke of Tuscany against the Turks, and consequently had to seek exile in Italy from 1613 - 1618. After his return he again furthered economic exchange, built caravanserails, schools and bridges. This policy was continued by Emir Beshir I, of the Maronite Chehabi dynasty. Under Emir Beshir II (1788 - 1840) Lebanon entered into its most brilliant period.

Beginning with the 18th century, France was gaining influence in the country. Louis XIV and Louis XV took the Maronites under their special protection, and Christian students were even offered reduced boat fares to France. When Ibrahim Pasha led Egypt to war against the Ottoman Empire, the European powers entered the scene (1840). The semi-Christian Lebanon was used as a bridgehead, and Beirut began to surpass the other cities. As the result of excessive support of the Christian population, a 20-year long civil war erupted in the mountains between the Druzes and the Maronites. In 1860 France and other European powers restored peace, and in 1861 Lebanon received an internationally guaranteed autonomy within the Ottoman Empire - with the exception of the coastal cities Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli. A new constitution eliminated feudal privileges and provided equal rights for all citizens. Taxes were raised mainly for local use; governors were appointed by the Sultan and the western parties. Since this time Lebanon has been the center of western influence in the Middle East.

World War I toppled the Ottoman rule. An allied occupation followed and in 1918 Lebanon was put under a French mandate and thus came under direct French influence. Strong cultural and economic ties resulted (and concrete and steel were introduced in construction). In 1944 Lebanon gained full independence. The end of World War II and the discovery of oil in the Gulf set off a sudden economic boom, which in essence was based on the traditional role of the country as a liberal trading center between East and West. However, the agricultural population of the mountains was now at a disadvantage, since its important function as supplier of foodstuffs was undermined by improved methods of shipping and trading. On the other hand, the mountains of the Lebanon were made accessible by a highly developed road system, and this part of the country continually gains in importance as a recreational area.

5- Socio-Economy

We can distinguish two distinctive segments in the Lebanese population: The commercially-minded coastal dwellers and the withdrawn inhabitants of the mountains. Originally, all habitation was concentrated along the coast, the mountains being used only for lumbering. Timber was the capital upon which the Phoenician trading activity was based. Open-minded, multilingual and tolerant, the Phoenicians acted as go-betweens among many cultures. This explains their greatest achievement: the formation of the alphabet which enabled them to record all existing languages with the same symbols. The Phoenicians were also great colonizers, but they never forgot their home cities. All these characteristics are retained to this day, when more than a million Lebanese abroad help to support the Lebanese economy with their trading connections and financial transactions.

Since Arab times followers of the dominating Sunnite denomination have settled in the coastal towns and plains while Shiites live in the lower hills of Southern Lebanon. Coexisting with both are large communities of Greek Orthodox Christians.

Parallel to the coastal inhabitants a tough and frugal mountain population developed through the centuries, consisting mainly of Maronites and Druzes, who elected to retain as much independence as possible by retreating into less accessible regions. The Maronites form a part of the Roman Catholic Church, while the esoteric religion of the Druzes includes Muslim, Christian and Far-Eastern elements. The Druze religion prescribes monogamy and women have the same rights as men. Thus, similar living conditions shaped the attitudes of these people in identical ways: a strong sense of community coupled with mutual tolerance and love of independence. Both were agricultural people who gained their sustenance by tireless cultivation of the rugged mountain slopes.

In the 13th century Frankish rule removed the isolation of the Christians, and exposed them to western influence. The harbor cities included autonomous trading quarters for the Republic of Genoa, Venice and Pisa, and soon the Venetians gained full control of trade in the Levant. This trade was interrupted by the Mamlukes, who blocked the harbors for fear of new invasions from the sea. In 1300 the port of Beirut was reactivated to serve as a means of communication with Damascus, and in the 15th century a Venetian colony was reestablished there.

Commenting on feudalism in Lebanon during the 13th and 14th centuries Philip Hitti describes the living conditions of the period: "Lebanese tenants, unlike their counterparts in Syria and Egypt, were not serfs. They maintained their freedom of change of location and choice of the holder they would serve. Even in the Latin system introduced into the country no such freedom was enjoyed by the tenants. Lebanese fiefs were usually small, one to ten villages, parceled out among the members of the aristocratic families. The tenant's share was a fixed part of the produce and varied from three-quarters to two-thirds, except in irrigated lands where it averaged one half."

The discovery of the sea route to India (1488) lessened the commercial importance of the Levant. The beginning of Ottoman rule (1516) also reduced its strategic value. In 1521 the Venetians concluded the first trade agreement with Sulayman the Magnificent. Trade now consisted increasingly of local products, particularly silk, which stimulated the development of the country. The Sultan contented himself with the collection of taxes and left a large measure of independence to the inaccessible mountain areas.

In 1784 the French traveler Volney commented on the individual freedom and special privileges enjoyed by the Lebanese living in the mountain regions, stating that “here, unlike any other Turkish country everyone enjoys full security for his property and life.” He pointed out that the Lebanese peasant was no richer than peasants elsewhere but lived in tranquility, not fearing that the military officer, the district governor or the pasha would send his soldiers to oppress him.

Conditions in the occupied coastal zone, however, were less favorable. In 1775 Beirut counted only 6,000 inhabitants and in 1848 not more than 15,000. After 1860, however, the rural exodus, which has been mainly responsible for Beirut’s spectacular growth began. The massacres of 1860 in Mount Lebanon, the collapse of the silk industry under the impact of European industrial fibers and the decline in local handicrafts due to the European industrial competition brought about a lasting flow of emigrants. The emigrants remained attached to their home communities, kept sending money in support of their relatives and often returned later to pass their retirement days in their native country. This is due to the fact that the family holds the central position in the extensive framework of communal attachments and traditional loyalties of Lebanese society.

Great class differences were unknown and John Gulick writes in his study of the village of Al-Munsif north of Byblos: “…the social structure is equalitarian. Though individuals are rated on a scale of values from excellent to worthless, such judgments do not seem to be applied to groups of people.
… Families are to some extent distinguished from each other in terms of prosperity, but this seems to apply only to conjugal, or at most, to extended families. Numerous examples were given of families now well off which a few years ago had been poor, and vice versa. Notable prosperity or poverty both seem to be regarded as transitory situations mostly due to ‘luck’

It is only in recent times that the sudden mobility within the country, the rapid development of the main cities and the acceptance of and even addiction to all western novelties, have brought about profound changes which jeopardize the survival of traditional values.

II- Types of Houses

1- The Closed Rectangular House

A- Plan

The simplest Type of Flat-roofed house consists of a single square or rectangular space (bayt) with a low door (bab), ventilation openings below the roof (taqat) and one or two small windows (shubbak). If there are no other openings to the outside we call such a rectangular house closed. The largest dimension of a space without interior supports is limited by the common timber length to about 4.5 m.; a square room will then contain 20 m2. This is sufficient to shelter four persons (E1). The floor has two levels; the area next to the entrance and its high stone threshold (bertash) is even with the ground and is used as soiled service space (Madura). Shoes and tools are deposited here. The remaining area is raised by 20 to 75 cm. to form a clean platform (mastabeh) for living and sleeping. The exterior walls, which are 50 to 100 cm. thick, include niches for storage.

Example E2 shows the enlargement of the space to 26 m2 by means of one interior support. The logical extension of this principle produces large spaces with an internal system of pillars and enclosed by bearing walls. The pillars subdivide the space into square or rectangular units which are called bays (‘aynat, pl. of ‘ayn). A fine example of such a house is E3; it has six pillars and measures 88 m2. One third of the area serves as a stable (‘istabl) and fodder storage (matban); two thirds are raised by 75 cm. and serve as family room (maskan) and storage (hasel). The grouping of all living and working functions under one roof and into space without full divisions satisfied the need for security and allowed the use of animal warmth during the winter. It also imposed a very close contact between man and animal.

Elsewhere I have described in detail example E3, but a summary may be appropriate here (F7). Left of the entrance we have space for the storage of tools with a place for firewood above. To the right is the stable with adjacent fodder storage. The living area is three steps above (F8). From the stable this space is separated by silos (kuwwarat), and from the store by a wardrobe unit (yuk). The area near the fireplace serves as kitchen or for sitting or sleeping (F9). When we look at the plans of E1 to E3 we must take into consideration the importance of the open service space in front of the house. During the day the actual working and living space is outside. Usually on the shady north side a small open construction serves as kitchen (daykuneh). Most of the cooking is done on a stove (mawkadeh), the baking of bread in an earthen oven (tannur) (F10). Outside we find the water reservoir (bir), a well (nab’) or a least a basin which receives the water brought from the village fountain. In a remote corner we may have the manure deposit and an oriental toilet (mirhad). Manure used to be dried in the shape of cakes to be used as fuel. The surface directly in front of the door is usually paved and shaded by a tree or vines (F11). Often several houses belonging to a clan are grouped around a common courtyard (hosh) with a single entrance. In the past whole quarters of a town were similarly organized and closed during the night (F12, F13, F14).

Example E4 reveals the change from mud and rubble to cut stone construction, which brings with it an increased rigidity of form. This is expressed in plan by sharp rectangular corners and strict separation of spaces. The previously soft transition of the internal levels turns into an abrupt step. The arcade (habl knater “line of arches”) introduces a strong division of the interior space into aisles (swa, pl. of su’). The organic unity of the interior space into is reduced, although the arcade introduces a formal enrichment.

Example E5 turns to vaulted construction. The single-cell building of 5 by 8 m. is similar to E1. The one-directional barrel vault results in a tunnel effect which is not really suitable for living quarters; it is therefore used predominantly for service spaces. The cross-vault creates a more satisfactory space. At the same time the use of massive vaulting invites the addition of an upper floor.

Example E6 shows the effect of this development. The adoption of two-floor construction is very significant since it allows the vertical separation of living and services areas. It terminates the cohabitation of man and animal, thus symbolizing man’s emancipation from unremitting toil. The connection between floors is always external. E6 hs a flat-roofed upper floor with an interior arcade which rests on the two cross-vaults of the ground floor. Due to the sloping site, the ground floor is actually a basement in its rear part. The stairway to the upper floor rests on an arch which defines a small porch below. On the rear side of the house we have the typical stairway (daraj) to the roof…. …. Etc…

B- Construction

Employing Flat Beam construction, the closed rectangular house constitutes the simplest way of creating a sheltered living space. In areas where timber is totally lacking, roofs are made of stone slabs (Hauran) or are constructed in the shape of domes, as in northern Syria (F19). Neither type of construction, however, is found in Lebanon.

The building technique in Lebanon combined bearing wall and skeleton construction. Bearing walls are used for the rigid enclosing elements, skeleton construction for the roof. The foundation (byiftahu l-‘asas) is carried down to bedrock where possible, or at least a meter below ground, a consisting of compacted loam and stones. The simplest type of exterior bearing walls (hitan, sing. Hayt) are made of stones collected from the ground and piled up without mortar as dry masonry (kallin). The thickness of such a wall is about one meter throughout and it consists of three parts: the exterior leaf (hayt l-beranneh), the interior leaf (hayt j-juwwani) and the core (rakkeh) in between which is filled with rubble (dabsh) (F20). The outer face is usually built in horizontal ranges (madamik), the stones being roughly cut to fit on the outside while they are secured in place by wedge-like stone chips at the inner joints. The interior face is built less carefully since it will be covered by plaster,

An improved version consists of ranged masonry laid in mortal of loam, if possible enriched with lime. This construction is called bonded (msaffat). The wall thickness is reduced to about half a meter, with bonding stones frequently trying the outer and inner faces of the wall (F21).

The interior plaster consists of a layer of loamy earth (tin) mixed with chaff (qasrine). There may be an additional finish coat of lime plaster (huwwara). Both are 3-4 cms. thick. Rounding out the corners, the plaster merges with the floor of compacted earth and usually continues to the outside around windows and doors (F22, F23). Buildings of mud brick exist only in the Beqa’a plain, but they cannot be distinguished from plastered stone buildings. The mud bricks (libn) are prepared in wooden forms from a mixture of loamy earth, chaff and water. The dimensions vary widely, and reach up to 30 x 50 x 15 cm. The bricks are laid in bonds of headers and stretchers, and produce walls of about 80 cm. thickness.

The roof (sath), if not vaulted, always consists of a flat timber structure with a topping of earth, 30 to 50 cm. thick (F20). The main structural element is a layer of logs (wasleh), 10-20 cm. in diameter, embedded in the exterior walls at 40-60 cm. centers. Long logs are usually left projecting on the outside (F24). The preferred wood for these joints is mulberry (tut) or a kind of poplar (zenzlakht)… …Etc...

C. Exterior Design

D. Interior Design

E. Origin

2- The Gallery House
Etc… etc…

Decree N. 2385 of 17/1/1924 as amended by law N. 76 of 3/4/1999 ( articles 2, 5, 15, 49 and 85 ) lays down as follows: The author of a literary or artistic work, by the very fact of authorship, has absolute right of ownership over the work, without obligation of recourse to formal procedures . The author will himself enjoy the benefit of exploitation of his work, and he possesses exclusive rights of publication and of the reproduction under any form whatsoever. Whether the work in question comes under the public domain or not those persons will be liable to imprisonment for a period of one to three years and to fine of between five and fifty million Lebanese pounds, or to either one of these penalties, who 1-will have appended or caused to be appended a usurped name on a literary or artistic work; 2-will have fraudulently imitated the signature or trademark adopted by an author, with a view to deceiving the buyer; 3-will have counterfeited a literary or artistic work; 4-or will have knowingly sold, received, or put on sale or into circulation a work which is counterfeit or signed with a forged signature. The punishment will be increased in the event of repetition.



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