Built in 1895, the Emir Faisal Arlsan Museum is perched on a hillside near the entrance of Aley, reached by a series of twists and turns along the Damascus road. It is Aley’s first museum, initiated by Hayat Wahab Arslan, wife of the late Emir Faisal, as a tribute not only to her husband, but also to the socio-political history of the Arslan family and Lebanon’s struggle for independence. Indeed, the transformation of the family’s palace into a place of historical significance was the desire of Emir Faisal himself, who insisted that “what the Lebanese achieved is the property of Lebanon”.
Inside the beautifully restored 12-room, white and beige stone structure is a combination of Oriental arches and European medieval towers. It houses treasures from old documents, books and manuscripts, to weapons and tokens from important historical periods, such as the creation of Greater Lebanon and then its 1943 independence. One example is the Arslan family registry in Kufic writing, from 800AD. More recently, there are relics from the 1948 war with Israel, including helmets from the Haganah defence forces and a cannon from Nazareth. A French chest from the time of Napoleon Bonaparte shares a space with porcelain washstands dating to 1920. There are 19th-century items from Syria, such as a mother-of-pearl antique bridal chest, and Ottoman antiques, including a tapestry designed as currency.