An Ot­toman palace

Sidon’s his­toric Debbane Palace is one of the few re­main­ing ex­am­ples of Ot­toman ar­chi­tec­ture in the city. LT meets Raphael Debbane who trans­formed it from a fam­ily home into a mu­seum and opened it to the pub­lic

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENT - 07 720110, Al Mu­tran Street, Sidon mu­se­um­saida.org

We be­lieve that it is our duty to pro­tect it and open it to the pub­lic to show the valu­able his­tory of Sidon.

Debbane Palace is an 18th Cen­tur y build­ing in Sidon, built by Ali Ham­moud in 1721. The at­mo­spheric space fea­tures typ­i­cal di­wans (Ori­en­tal style liv­ing rooms), a li­wan (a long nar­row-fronted hall), sev­eral rooms and an open-air cour tyard, with the char­ac­ter is­tic fea­tures of the Ot­toman per iod – brown and white str ipes of stone and intr icate mo­saic tiles make up the in­ter ior. De­spite its lo­ca­tion on the bustling streets of Sidon, in­side the house is a peace­ful es­cape.

Youssef Debbane bought the house in 1800 and the fam­ily lived there for gen­er­a­tions. “We have fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries in the house,” says Raphael Debbane, mem­ber of the board and chair­man of the agr icul­tural com­mit­tee of the Cham­ber of Com­merce, In­dustr y and Agriculture of Beirut and Mount Le­banon; and pres­i­dent of the Debbane Foun­da­tion. “I used to live there and got mar­ried there in 1967. It’s ver y big; I re­mem­ber play­ing in the huge liv­ing room and ter­race. Be­fore 1975 we used to go to the house al­most ever y week­end with our chil­dren.” When Debbane’s grand­fa­ther first moved into the build­ing, he built another level to ac­com­mo­date the whole fam­ily. “Peo­ple spe­cial­ized in ar­chi­tec­ture are surpr ised when they see how this floor was added with­out de­lin­eat­ing the or ig­i­nal Ot­toman design; it’s ver y im­pres­sive,” he says.

In 1978 the Debbane fam­ily was forced to leave their home with the ad­vent of the Le­banese Civil War. It be­came a home to Pales­tinian refugees who fled from the camps in the South, stay­ing there un­til 1982 when Is­rael bom­barded the area. When the Debbane fam­ily re­turned af ter the war, the house was de­stroyed and they star ted the restora­tion process. “We cre­ated the Debbane Foun­da­tion in 1999 with the aim to re­store the house and trans­form it into a mu­seum show­ing the ar­chi­tec­ture of Ot­toman houses,” Debbane says. The restora­tion process be­gan in 2000 and took around two years.

The Debbane Palace re­ceives close to 2,000 vis­i­tors a month, with tourists from around the world vis­it­ing to see this mon­u­ment to the past. “It’s re­ally a prom­i­nent his­tor­i­cal palace in Sidon, we don’t have many of them,” Debbane says. “We be­lieve that it is our duty to pro­tect it and open it to the pub­lic to show the valu­able his­tory of Sidon.”

Debbane is pos­i­tive about the fu­ture of Sidon with the nu­mer­ous projects un­der­way to preser ve the city’s her itage. “We are lucky to have ac­tive deputies work­ing hard for the sake of the town,” he says. “I vis­ited the Mu­seum of Sidon one month ago. It’s ver y im­pres­sive – they have been do­ing arche­o­log­i­cal re­search there for years and have found civ­i­liza­tions dat­ing back 5,000 years.” The mu­seum, which is still un­der con­struc­tion, is be­ing built over the arche­o­log­i­cal site with a glass view­ing floor.

The Debbane Foun­da­tion are con­tin­u­ing to de­velop their mu­seum too with plans to trans­form the up­per floor of the house into a mu­seum shar ing the stor y of the 16 sar­cophagi that were found in Sidon and are now ex­hib­ited in the Is­tan­bul ar­chae­o­log­i­cal mu­seum. “They were found just 600m from our house. They call them the Sar­cophagi of the Kings of Sidon. In the Ne­crop­o­lis of Sidon they found the Alexan­der Sar­coph­a­gus, it’s made from mar­ble and is over 2,000 years old – it’s ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble,” Debbane says.

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