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Beaufort Castle

  • monument

Arnoun, Nabatieh district

On a hilltop overlooking the southern part of the Beqaa Valley are moss-covered remains of the Crusader Beaufort Castle. In Arabic, the historic site is referred to as Shaqif Arnun, the word "shqif" being Syriac for high rock. Although it looks inaccessible, this rocky fortress can be reached from the village of Arnun, which lies about seven kilometers (four miles) southeast of Nabatieh. The castle, which is mostly in ruins, is surrounded by a moat and the archeological remnants of an ancient village of similar architecture.

Shqif is a syriac term meaning high rock. Western travelers called it Belfort or Beaufort. At first sight, it seems inaccessible, but it can be easily reached from the village of Arnun. In front of the fortress the visitor will see a large water cistern and the ruins of an ancient village contemporary with the citadel. There is no direct evidence of the building date or the builder of this castle. According to William of Tyre, it was erected by the Crusaders, but some scholars are of the opinion that it is older. It has been suggested that the monument was already standing when the Crusaders arrived. It has also been argued that it was first built in the Late Roman or Byzantine period, later restored and enlarged by the Arabs. The Crusaders restructured and fortified it and it became the most important fortress in Lebanon. The Crusader king, Foulques d'Anjou, conquered it from the ruler of Damascus and gave it to the Crusader rulers of Sidon in 1138.Salaheddin besieged it for two years and was able to storm it in 1140.The Crusaders regained control of the citadel in 1190 after they had signed an agreement with Al Salih Ismail, ruler of Damascus. In 1260, it was bought by the Templars from the Sidonian prince and it remained their property until its conquest in 1268 by the Mameluke Sultan, Al Zahir Baybars. The Templars built there a small fort called Château Neuf. Fakhreddin restored and fortified it at the beginning of the 17th century, but the governor of Damascus, Hafez Pasha, besieged it and partly destroyed it with his artillery.

The restoration of the monument was initiated by the Lebanese Directorate of Antiquities in the late1970's but it soon had to stop because of repeated Israeli bombardments. The Crusader castle has been under Israeli occupation since 1982. The fortress lies on a 700 m high rocky mound. Its plan had to follow the relief and topography of the site and resulted in a quasi-rectangular shape. To the east, it overlooks the 300m deep Litani River valley. On the other three sides, it is surrounded by a moat. In spite of its very bad state of preservation, some of its elements are still standing and easy to identify. On both ends of its well-preserved southern wall rise two beautiful towers. The wall is built on top of a glacis covered with flat stones and covering all the rocky platform on which the fort stands. The monument originally had three stories, but the third one has been totally destroyed.
The main entrance leads to the ground floor and is located on the eastern side of the building. It is protected by three towers, on top of which a large number of fighters could stand. In the southeastern corner is a second entrance leading to the upper floor and, finally, a third entrance in the southwestern angle sur-mounted by machicolations leads to the center of the main courtyard. Inside, the castle is almost completely ruined and only the eastern wall, entrance and staircase of a big tower in the middle of the western side survive. On the eastern side is a 13th century vaulted building, either a church or an assembly hall. On the northern side are the remains of two towers and of a large cistern which occupies part of the moat surrounding the fortress.