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
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.