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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Kesserwan > Large Houses: Abboud and Boueiri


Descendents of the Ottoman Sultans in Ghadir, Lebanon

In my birthplace Ghadir, a town nestling on the western slope of the mountain and overlooking the bay of Jounieh, there are two large dwellings, markedly different to the other houses around by reason both of their architecture and their size.

When as small children we passed in front of these buildings we were told that they had been the residences of important Ottoman personalities during the time of the administrators called Mutassarefs, the governors of Mount Lebanon. Their image and memories of them as important people persisted in our childhood minds seventy years ago.

When I was asked about the history of these fine houses, I started some research and sought documentation so as to get as close as possible to the historical truth. In particular I consulted what had been written by those Turkish historians who had come to Lebanon in order to shed light on the history of the time covering the beginning of the First World War up to and including the nineteen-thirties.

The Ottoman Turkish Empire entered the war as an ally of Germany in the hope that victory would mean it would get back its former dominant position, restoring the power of the Sultanate. The Ottoman Turks has been governing a vast empire for 450 years.

Some well-off Turkish families foresaw the likely defeat and fall of the Sublime Porte and fled their country and their home towns to seek refuge elsewhere with their friends and former high officials scattered about the Empire, including Mount Lebanon.

It is not easy to know how many children the Sultans had, for there were often a very large number of women in their harem. I would even dare to say that the Sultan himself would not recognize all his progeny beyond those of one, two or three privileged women. The boys would be counted as in the family, whereas the girls were forgotten, left out, the most beautiful among them being married off to high officials in the Empire or to high-ranking army officers. But we may consider just some of the very many descendents of the Sultans, those whom we know about.

To Ghadir came the princes Seleem and Abdul Kareem and one of their sisters as well as others, all children of Sultan Abdul Hameed, accompanied by their secretaries, servants and general household. Once they had reached Jounieh in Kessrouan they asked the address of their friends the Hobaish family of Ghazir, for these had been important officials under the Turkish administration. Among the arrivals were Sheikh Taleb, “Yaoun” secretary of the Sultan, Sheikh Naaman and some distinguished ambassadors. They settled in these two large residences that now formed the “Quarter of the Sultan”. Certainly, other notables related to the former Sultan established themselves elsewhere.

Emir Bassem and his wife accompanied Emir Saleem and occupied the house of the Boueri family in Ghadir. They ended their days in an old people’s home in Beirut during the nineteen-fifties in a state of extreme poverty.

Emir Saleem died in Ghadir in 1937. Emir Abdul Kareem married Isabel Kawaark, a very beautiful Christian. They left Lebanon for Damascus in Syria, where the Syrian government granted them a monthly allowance. From there they emigrated to India. They had two sons, Doumaydan and Haroun. One of the sisters got married in Tripoli and her descendents still live in North Lebanon, forming the family Ibrahim Jour.

In 1918 the Great War ended and an amnesty was declared, leaving conqueror and conquered. The victory of the Franco-British alliance and the defeat of the German and Turkish side meant that there were great changes in the world, and notably in the Middle East, including Lebanon.

In due course Turkish historians came to Lebanon in order to inform themselves and to document details about this little-known aspect of the family of the last Sultan and Caliph of the Ottomans.

The house of the Azzi family, occupied by the Sultan’s grandson, was sold to the Abbouds, a very rich family who had amassed wealth in Africa; these restored the house, making it more modern and functional.

This dwelling and that of the Boueris are just a hundred yards from each other. The Boueri house is a spacious two-storey building of hewn stone. The first floor (ground floor, by Lebanese and Anglo-European counting) was partly occupied by the Obeid family, but has long been empty and abandoned to fall slowly into a state of ruin. This ground floor has a ceiling of cross-vaults, while on the floor above it are several sitting-rooms, bedrooms, corridors, balconies, and a beautiful interior patio. With its red-tiled roof the house is beautiful and picturesque to look at but at the same time not very practical; at the time it was built rooms with water, toilets, baths and often even the kitchens were made outside the house.

When I saw it, the entrance reminded me of my old house in Jounieh, standard for its time; one enters the Boueri house through a spacious hall which is surrounded by rooms. The ceiling is painted with various motifs in attractive colors and the floor is tiled. The wooden doors and windows are very fine. The house needs a savior to restore it, failing which it is doomed, for it has not yet been classified.

‘Objects without life, do you have a soul?” The outside forms, the arcades, the columns and the walls surpass the inside in beauty and in simplicity. These remains over a hundred years old most certainly have a soul. The stones are vibrant with life and recall for us past times, full of charm, emotion and tranquility.

As for the house of the Azzi family once occupied by the Sultan’s grandson as we have said, this is a very beautiful house in stone which is still full of activity. Brought up-to-date and occupied by modern people, namely the Abbouds, their children, and their grandchildren, the house has plenty of life.

From the very first sight, one is struck by the “presence” of this dwelling, like the buildings of Andalusia, for it rises suddenly among greenery and trees of great beauty. It is a house planned with two tall stories and a red-tiled roof. The ground (first) floor has cross-vaults and the upper floor is extensive with several sitting-rooms, bedrooms, corridors and balconies. As the house is still occupied, it has been considerably restored and is therefore adapted to modern living. The ceilings are decorated with images of angels and a friendly human warmth pervades the edifice.

The venerable stones have the sheen of time. The outside masses are varied and harmonious. The flights of stairs, verandas, and façades, and the verdant surroundings all contribute to the life and animation of this beautiful dwelling. The silvery cypresses, the orange trees and the avocado trees give yet more splendor to this charming and dreamlike site.

These two houses are an integral part of the Lebanese heritage and they should be protected by the DGA, the APSAAD, or the Town Council of Jounieh.

Joseph Matar
Translation from the French : Kenneth J. Mortimer


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