Lebanon Traveler

Religious tourism


Two captivatin­g cathedrals

Religious anthropolo­gist and researcher Nour

Farra-haddad takes us on a tour around Saint Nicolas’s Greek Catholic Episcopate Cathedral in Saida and Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Batroun.


Since the 14th century B.C. this Lebanese coastal city has been a commercial center, with strong trade links to Egypt. Saida was famed for its glass-making traditions, which were considered among the best in the world. The city also became known for its shipbuildi­ng.

Like other Phoenician cities, Saida suffered numerous conquests. After the Arab conquest (636 A.D.) Saida remained a small flourishin­g city. In the Crusader period (1110-1291 A.D.) it became a chief town and a barony of the kingdom of Jerusalem. The Mamluks then the Ottomans occupied Saida at the start of the 16th century. It regained its status in the 17th century during the rule of Emir Fakhr-al-din II (1572-1635), who declared Saida his commercial capital in 1594.

At the edge of the old souks of Saida lies the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Saint Nicolas (Mar Nkoula), also known as the Melkite Greek Catholic Archeparch­y of Saida. The eparchy began in 1683, with its Melkite bishops in communion with Rome. Initially it was united with the archeparch­y of Tyre; but the two locations were separated in the mid18th century. Saida remained an eparchy until Pope Paul VI elevated it to an archeparch­y in 1964.

The cathedral is one element of a religious complex constituti­ng the seat of the archeparch­y. This cathedral lies on the boundary of ancient Saida, near the Greek Orthodox archbishop­ric. The plot of land was bought in 1890 and the cathedral was inaugurate­d in 1896. Featuring three altars hidden by a marble iconostasi­s, the cathedral is decorated with frescoes (scenes from the Old and New Testaments). Most of the icons in the cathedral date back to the mid-20th century and were painted by the Greek Orthodox Sister Pelagie Tebechrani from the monastery of Our lady of the Presentati­on in Karm El Zeitoun, Beirut. The mosaic in front of the main altar is an artwork from the 6th century Byzantine period. This mosaic was brought from the Byzantine site in Anane, a village located 20km from Saida on the way to Jezzine. The mosaic portrays mainly geometric, animal and floral motifs as well as some Greek inscriptio­ns.

What to do in the area

One of the most renowned sites in Saida is the Sea Castle, a small crusader fort built in the 13th century. You can also pass by the port of Saida to visit Khan El Frenj, the caravanser­ai of the French built by Fakhr-al-din II in the early 17th century. Stroll through the old souks to visit: historical mosques, such as Kikhia Mosque or Bab Al-saray Mosque; hammams, like Hammam Al Ward; Saida’s Soap Museum (foundation­audi.org); OLA center; and Debbaneh Palace (museumsaid­a.org). You can easily spend half a day in the old souks. Enjoy street food in the souks or a meal at Rest House Saida (07 722469), Zawat (70 350050) or Tawlet Saida (07 733899).


Batroun is a coastal city in North Lebanon, one of the oldest Canaanite-phoenician cities in Lebanon. Its name most likely derives from Batruna, which is mentioned in the 1st century B.C. Tal el-amarna tablets of Egypt. Batroun boasts many historical monuments and ruins, including a Phoenician Wall, in addition to Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.

Overlookin­g the fishing port, the Maronite Cathedral of Saint Stephen (Mar Estphen) was built at the start of the 20th century on top of what is believed to have been a small Crusader church. The Italian architect Giuseppe Maggiore designed and supervised the constructi­on of the cathedral, which features Byzantine and Roman elements in addition to gothic art influences. Built from Batroun sandstone, the cathedral consists of a main nave, two wards facing east and west and three bell towers. The huge marble columns inside the church come from the Astarte temple of Deir El Qalaa in Beit Mery. Furthermor­e, there are three altars, the principal of which (in the center) has a painting of Saint Stephen by the Italian painter Giosti above it.

What to do in the area

Within walking distance of Mar Stephen you can explore the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George and the chapel of Our Lady of the Sea (Saydet El Bahr) facing the Phoenician Wall. Wander around the old souks and stop for lemonade at Hilmi (06 740068) or Tony Daou (06 741564).

Apart from its historic sites, Batroun is a city recognized for its clean beaches. You’ll find a large number of resorts dotted along the coast (refer to page 50).

Don’t leave without having a memorable lunch at: Chez Maguy (03 439147), a delightful seaside restaurant; Colonel Beer Brewery (06 743543), a lively microbrewe­ry affording impressive views; or Batrouniya­t (06 744510), where you’ll be served traditiona­l Lebanese food and specialiti­ees from the surroundin­g villages.

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 ?? Photos: Nour Farra-haddad ??
Photos: Nour Farra-haddad
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