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 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.
The 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.).
Beautiful SceneryKaftoun is located on top of a small hill, 360 meters (1184 ft) height, sandwiched between the rivers of Asfour (Bird) from the north and el Jaouz from the south. It is bordered by Jabel El Majdel (Majdel Mountain) from the east and the hills of Btaaboura from the west. It is surrounded by groves of olive trees and many fruiting trees such as figs, almonds and grape vines.
Kaftoun, was originally located on a higher hill south-west of the current location. Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, inhabitants for some unknown reason, started to gradually build their new houses in the valley below, in the direction of the current location and upwards to the current location and beyond. Some possible reasons for this migration might have been:
- Lack of space for building new dwellings and unsuitability of the clayish soil to provide the proper foundations for new building, or
- To be closer to the el Jaouz River, the inhabitants main source of water, or
- To be nearer to the fields of the Theotokos Monastery, where they labored in tilling and cultivating the land.
The only remaing building on the old hill is the Church of Saint Foka [Greek name Phokas], patron Saint of Kaftoun. Saint Foka was an early saint and martyr from Asia Minor who was sentenced to death for being a Christian.
Caves, Catacombs and Roman BridgesCaves:
In Kaftoun, by the banks of the el Jaouz River (Walnut River) you will find many caves that dot the area. These were used as dwellings by Early Man and several of them, until recently, were still being used by shepherds to shelter their herds. Regretfully, one important cave, known as the Hanania cave, was recently destroyed, in 1970, by the new road constructed to provide vehicle access to the Greek Orthodox Theotokos Monastery. Hanania is a Hebrew word that means "God has been gracious". It is understood that a saintly monk named Hanania, dedicated his life to live in this cave. He was handed water and food by passers by.
If you are of the adventurous type, you might consider climbing to the top of the El Majdel Mountain and look for catacombs. You might find two that are carefully hidden from prying eyes. If you do, please treat the site as you would any historical site. Please preserve our heritage for future generations.
Roman and Arab Bridges:
There are several pedestrian bridges across the el Jaouz river still standing from Roman and Arab times such as the one in the picture below by the entrence to the Kaftoun Theotokos Monastery.
LocationKaftoun is situated 85 km from Beirut, in the District of Koura in the North Lebanon Governorate. It covers an area of 333 hectares and stands at an altitude of 380m above sea level. It can be reached via several routes, such as:
- Batroun - Rasnhash - Kfarhata كفرحتا - Btaaboura بتعبورة - Kaftoun or
- Chekka - Kefraya كفريا - Kfarhata كفرحتا - Btaaboura بتعبورة - Kaftoun or
- Amioun اميون - Bziza بزيزا - Mijdel مجدل - Kaftoun
PopulationThe population is estimated to number 700 people, who are mainly Orthodox. There are 74 houses in the village.
Local AuthoritiesThe village has a municipal council consisting of 9 members, and 1 mayor and 3 members on the mayoral council. It is an old municipality, which was founded according to decree no 228, issued by the Internal Administration on 10-6-1965. In 1997, the municipality received LBP 17.6 million from the independent municipal council fund. This sum had increased to 26.5 million LBP by 2003. The following table demonstrates the evolution of those revenues between 1997-2003:
|Revenue from the Independent Municipal Council Fund||17.6||37||12.6||23.5||21.8||26.5|
|Evolution of revenues between 1997 and 2003|
These funds are insufficient to enable the municipality to conduct any real developmental projects in the village, which are sorely needed due to the low income levels of its citizens.
Educational and social institutionsThe village has one public school and an athletics club.
Economic ActivitiesThe villagers mainly rely on agriculture (particularly olives) and a few small businesses (services and trade). It also has a few handcraft workshops and one sawmill.