Welcome to the Village of Kaftoun!

Kaftoun is a small Lebanese village located along the north bank of the Nahr el Jaouz (Walnut River), in the District of Koura , North Lebanon [Kaftoun satellite map]. The houses of Kaftoun number seventy, and its inhabitants number about three hundred. They are mostly Greek Orthodox Christians, who are peaceful, respectful of others, and generally well educated. The name "Kaftoun" in the ancient Aramaic language means "dug from" or "sculpted from" a cliff. In the ancient Syriac language (Kftuna) it means "the domed". Both roots of the word lead us to believe that the village was named after the domed Theotokos Monastery which is carved in the red rock cliffs by the banks of the Jaouz River.

Kaftoun, 1996Kaftoun and its surroundings are steeped in history. This can be evidenced from the names of some of its families: Kanaan (canaan), after the Canaanites who dwelt in the region during the earlier Bronze Age (3000-1200 H.C.) and from which the Phoenicians of the Iron Age (first millennium B.C.) descended. The Semaan Family traces its roots to the Ghassanid dynasty. The Ghassanids were a group of South Arabian Christian tribes that emigrated in the early 3rd century from Yemen to the Hauran in southern Syria, Jordan and the Holy Land. It is said that the Ghassanids came from the city of Ma'rib in Yemen. There was a dam in this city, one year the dam was carried away by the ensuing flood. Thus the people there had to leave. The inhabitants emigrated and became scattered far and wide. The emigrants were from the southern Arab tribe of Al-Azd الأزد of the Kahlan branch of Qahtani tribes.

Mar Sarkis, Photo taken , winter 1996The Sarkis Family, takes its name from Saint Sergius (Mar Sarkis). Sergius an officer in the Roman army and Bacchus, an officer under him, were both friends of Emperor Maximian (284-305). They were scourged to death when they refused his orders to offer sacrifice to the pagan god Jupiter. For nearly a thousand years they were the official patrons of the Byzantine armies. Many Eastern Christians still continue to revere them as their special patron saints. Their feast day is October 7th. The old Mar Sarkis Church by the banks of the Jaouz River, which is presently being excavated, was erected in their honor (600-700 A.D.).

A Trail Of Promise

Image For centuries, Lebanon has lured travelers of all kinds, from literary icons to artists and photographers, and the country’s mountain ranges have proved especially appealing. The French poet Alphonse de Lamartine, who toured the region between 1832 and 1833, wrote so eloquently about it that there is at least one valley and one spectacular cedar tree in the Chouf Mountains that bear his name. Lebanon also left a deep impression on 19th-century artists David Roberts and William Henry Bartlett, as well as photographers Felix Bonfils and Frances Frith, all of whom produced volumes showcasing the land, its people and its antiquities.


Medieval wall paintings in the Middle East

Image An impressive quantity of churches decorated with medieval wall paintings have been discovered in the mountainous regions of North Lebanon and Western Syria. Today over thirty sites with murals, unfortunately often in a poor state, are known in the area between Tripoli and Jbeil, in the Qadisha Valley and in Beirut, and about ten more are present in the Qalamun region north of Damascus, and in Homs. This is, however, only the tip of the iceberg as written sources report about the presence of many other, now vanished, embellished sanctuaries. Most of these buildings were used by indigenous Christian communities - Byzantine Orthodox (Melkite), Maronite and Syrian Orthodox - and witness of the prosperity of the local Christians and interaction with their Muslim and Latin neighbors. The Crusader element is disappointingly limited, though this is not very surprising since the surviving churches are mainly located in remote areas. The Latins had their churches in coastal cities, where urban renewal and renovations have erased almost all traces of painted decoration. Exceptions are the finds in the chapels of the defence forts Marqab Castle and Crac des Chevaliers in Syria, which, however, seem to have been embellished by local artists.