NNA – It is the descendant of an ever-challenging history, an ever-persistent, unforgotten victory. It rebelled against all natural factors, and it rebelled against occupation by Mamluks and Ottomans. Indeed, it rebelled, even against the Israeli violations that destroyed its landmark and messed its architecture and urbanism from 1976 until 2006. It is Deir Kifa castle, the icon of monuments, lying between the hills of Jabal Amel in South Lebanon. While the castle’s fortifications were crushed by the artillery and heavy air-missiles during the said period, it still carried a long history of heritage buried under the ground, rocks, and rubble. A heritage that entails the importance and grandness of this monument, in which many see the necessity to keep memory alive, even if through stones that call out the conscience and echo the fact that he who has no past, has no present, and he who has no present, has no future.
This is what pushed those among Deir Kifa people who are loyal to heritage to seek, even by the simplest means, giving it the attention it needs, including – even partial – restoration. What resulted was signing a restoration contract on the eighth of November, sponsored by Head of the National Association for the Preservation of the Archeology and Heritage of South Lebanon, Randa Berri, French battalion, represented by Colonel Nicolas Doron, and Colonel De Fual, as well as Head of the Union of Tyre Municipalities, Eng. Hassan Dbouk and Deputy Mayor Wissam Medlej. It was inaugurated by a French gift for the castle and brick base and tents.
Dbouk told the National News Agency that the Union was funding the studies required for restoring and rehabilitating the castle through assigning a competent engineer. This study is ready, waiting for funding, to do what it takes to return the castle to its original state, highlight its features, and put it on the tourist map again.
For his part, Medlej said to NNA, “We have demanded of the Ministry of Culture more than once, through visits by the municipal board, to take care of the castle as a tourist, historic, and heritage landmark. Up till today, we received no response or attention, under the pretext that money is not available. However, we have not despaired. Instead, we took it upon ourselves, as a municipal board, to take the restoration initiative. We rebuilt the castle’s southern fence, which is of a 60 m height and 6 m altitude, using the same rocks. We also restored two towers linked to it, which are of architectural and geometric characteristics similar to the rest of the castle’s parts. We were using the municipal fund despite the high cost. We built passages inside the castle, and we got funding from the Union of Tyre Municipalities through the TNT regional networking project to boost sustainable tourism in Mediterranean countries. This project was funded by the European Union to build stone and wooden protection barriers inside the castle to protect its visitors, as its yards have many wells. We also built an old-wooden gate at the main entrance to mimic the castle’s historical appearance. Head of South Board, Dr. Kabalan Kabalan, provided its lighting project in 2015.”
One of the town’s functionaries, Ahmed Zaitoun, told NNA that after the partial and minor restoration and lighting of the castle’s fences and the entrances, a number of civil and educational associations visited, especially students from Nabatieh, Sidon and Beirut schools, and a number of UNIFIL officers and soldiers from the French, Italian and Finnish battalion. They expressed their admiration for its breadth, size and their regret for neglecting it and what it has become.”
“In 2007, when repeated tremors struck Srifa area, the walls of the castle were damaged, cracked and disrupted. For this reason, it was visited by a delegation from the Higher Relief Commission, accompanied by South governor and Mayor of Tyre, Hussein Qabalan. They gave a promise of restoration, and it has not been implemented yet. During the recent years, we protected it from researchers, prospectors and aggressors and prevented anything being built next to it that might dominate and cover it,” he said.
He hoped that "the government and those concerned with the restoration of the castle to take care of it, just like the other castles, forts and monuments, so that it is preserved and sustained, so that it survives and that the region prospers, and to include it on the tourist map."
One of the Bandars’ descendants (77 years), who had an active role in a certain period of the castle’s history where they lived and managed the country, considered that "the ownership of the castle belongs to his early ancestors." The minute he was questioned by NNA, he answered with historical details of the castle as if he were its glossary and encyclopedia.
"Deir Kifa castle is one of the oldest castles of Lebanon. It was Phoenician, and the largest area in the south. Its columns and ruins were lifted by the Crusaders, and they made it a military protection point for Jerusalem, which is tens of kilometers away. During wars, large parts of it were destroyed, and French Crusader commander, Miron, renovated it and named it after himself. Years later, it fell in the hands of Mamluk Sultan Qalawun and he destroyed it in 1289 AD so that Crusader remnants don’t hide in it. After that, it was rebuilt by Sheikh Abbas Muhammad al-Nassar al-Waili during the Ottoman rule in 1761, and he made it a military barrack and a residence for his family, and his sons inherited it until Sheikh Kayed Bandar,” he said.
The castle covers an area of 17 thousand square meters and consists of three floors, containing many destroyed cellars and cells, rooms, multiple stone houses, horse stables, prisons, playgrounds, yards and wheat stores, where there are 365 wells to collect water, and where four springs have dried years ago.
Its fence is of a height of 6 meters to 12 meters wide by two meters. It has seven corners on each of which is a semi-circular control tower with a diameter of 8 meters used for guarding, hunting and defense. It rises 400 meters above sea level. It overlooks several towns: from the east, Mount Maroun and the town of Bourj Qalawiya, from the south, the town of Deir Kifa, from the north Srifa and Nakafiya, and from the west, valleys to the sea.
On a field tour, while you stand on the ruins of its ruined facilities, you feel its greatness and historical value that defies all natural factors, aggression, and negligence, as its harmoniously curved rooms have barely remained in the eastern and northern section. Three similarly elevated towers stand erect, separated by walls parallel to them in height and shape. Despite weeds and destruction, the geometric halls, in the center of which lies the fort, is still noticeable. Between the north and south towers is a tall wall that meets its center at a higher elevation. Between the halls are the basements of the western section, which are wide with curved ceilings and high walls, connected to each other. Parts of them were covered by the backfill and their windows, prepared for guarding and observation, overlook the surrounding roads west to the sea.
In many of its rooms, you look from a ceiling, seeking guidance to their entrance, but you cannot. Then, you get lost around the castle because of its vastness and its many corridors, underground rooms, walls, and decades, a well here and there, which confirms the novel that talks about 365 wells. In addition to prison openings that look similar to the wells and spread over the vast area of the castle, stables, and other places. Around the castle are doorsteps and windows, some of them straight, others from arches or vaults that still carry in the folds of their stones an ancient grace.
That which raises concern about this important historical landmark is the lack of interest from the government’s competent authorities. The castle was not listed as a tourist site as it is not eligible to receive visitors in its current situation, especially that its restoration and rehabilitation need big amounts of money, due to its wide geographical and urban expansion, poor geometric condition, and its cracked buildings, as well as the accumulation of backfill and its large size.