NNA - Khan el-Franj, a timid space that unfolds a stint of Lebanon's fascinating history and heritage, has long attracted local and foreign tourists who come in search for an opportunity to dwell in the past that's carved on the walls and pavements of this picturesque old vaulted souk.
This magnificent bit of history is one of the many khans or caravansaries which had been built by Fakhreddine II for merchants back in the 17th century.
It is a typical khan with a large rectangular courtyard and a central fountain surrounded by galleries. Having been the center of economic activity for the city in the 19th century, the khan also housed the French consulate. Entrance to the khan is through a small postern cut in the nail-studded main gate. Beyond is a cloistered court around which were the shops and dwelling places for traders.
Later in the 19th Century, Sidon's khan housed the French consulate, a school, a convent, an inn, and a small museum displaying local handicrafts. The terrace provided a clear view of the harbour and the Sea Castle.
The construction of the khan began in the XVII century, at the time of Emir Fakhr Eddin II, who built a castle, a bridge, a bathroom, and a khan to receive Arab and Western delegations coming from overseas.
In the year 1600, the Pasha of Damascus came to Sidon by sea to officially announce the mandate of Emir Fakhr Eddin and his entourage.
It has been said that the Khan was used as a commercial trading center by the French and a place of residence for its merchants, including those from Marseille. The origin of the word khan is from the Persian word "inn".
In 1791, for the first time during the term of Ahmad Pasha Jazzar in Sidon, French traders evacuated the Khan to be later used as a military barracks during the war against Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt.
In 1802, French traders were allowed to use the new khan after their return from battles. But a huge fire broke out at the khan causing total destruction of its south-western part. However, the Khan was restored under the supervision of the French consul.
Bombings by the Austrian and English fleets back in 1840 also hit the khan, a thing which caused huge damage to its premises. The Khan was repaired in 1881, and the restoration process was completed in 1893.
After restoration, the khan was converted into a convent for nuns and an orphanage. During this phase it was occupied by the former French consul. Later, the Islamic Waqf recovered ownership of the khan, which was offered by Emir Fakhreddin to the French.
In 1992, Hariri foundation was the first to sign a contract to renovate the Khan and thus worked on restoring it, giving it its original form, and strengthening its infrastructure.
Khan el Franj is currently an area of 58 square meters. It comprises two entrances and two stages. The ground floor consists of thirty six rooms which were used as depots for French traders. The first floor consists of 50 rooms which were used for the accommodation of French and Arab traders. Those rooms are currently used as Inns for tourists and cultural delegations. The other rooms are used as showrooms.
Lebanon's Ministry of Tourism helps the khan tourists to learn about the history of this site and different cultures. "AMANA CARE" foundation, supported by Hariri foundation, also helps woman display their knitting and embroideries in the Khan.