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.).
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.
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
The Kaftoun Theotokos Monastery - a jewel of spirituality!
Written by Administrator
Wednesday, 30 March 2005 20:09
By the edge of Kaftoun you turn right towards the Walnut River (Nahr el Jaouz) valley; on your right a vast expanse of olive groves and on your left the el Majdel Mountain dressed in its majestic green cover of scrub oak. As you approach a small pine forest perched above the river valley, turn left down the steep and winding road descending towards the river. On a spring morning you can observe the dawn mist lifting itself from the river as the sun's rays stream down gloriously from behind the majestic Lebanon mountain peaks. As the cool mist rises from the river you are engulfed by the aromatic fragrances it caries with it from the flowering orange trees in the valley below. The gushing waters of the el Jaouz River break over the large boulders in the valley on their final journey to the Mediterranean. They cry, as if lamenting their inevitable fate, their cries and moans amplified by the echo of the river valley. As you are mesmerized by the sights, smells and sounds of the river you become totally unaware of your purpose, savoring every moment, oblivious of what lies ahead. But then, suddenly, there it is! The Greek Orthodox Theotokos Monastery, nestled by the river's edge, a jewel of spirituality! Adorned and perfectly set within the red limestone cliff above, protected from prying eyes and sheltered from the elements. What a sight! What a find! You rush towards it with adoration and disbelief. Your sanctity restored!
This article is about the life of Kaftoun's distinguished son Emile Daher, born to Georges Abdallah Daher and Alida Semaan on January, 25th, 1935. Emile was an enterprising individual and a good Samaritan who died tragically in 1989 while in the prime of his life. This article highlights his life and works and is written by his daughter Aline Daher.
This article in Arabic highlights the varied church frescoes in Lebanon including those of the Basilica of Saint Sergius and Bacchus (Mar-Sarkis) in Kaftoun. It was first published in MEA's Cedar Wings magazine in the issue of April-May 2014.
On the shelf in my study is a small, olive notebook dating from the 1930s, deep brown around the edges, its linen boards and Navy emblem shiny from handling and age. On the inside cover is a name, Rosalie Abraham, and her address, written over and over again in fountain ink as if to be sure there would be no mistake as to the rightful owner. In fact there was a second owner, Lillie Mae, Rosalie's younger sister and my grandmother, who told me in her later years that Aunt Rosalie always was the selfish type.
It was an evening like no other. Time for the seven year old boy stood still as he played with his friends at the Malaab [the playing field]. It was the evening of August 14, and all his friends would not stop talking about tomorrow! Yes, for tomorrow was not going to be any ordinary day! Tomorrow, none of them would have to pick and string tobacco leaves as they have done every day this summer. Instead they will be going on a picnic to the Monastery by Naher Al Jaouz where they can swim in the river. This is an opportunity for them to spend the money they have earned from [ta'fear]. Ta'fear is the activity of collecting stray almonds after the farmer's first pickings. Many of them earned several Lebanese Liras, twenty-five or thirty-five piasters at a time, by selling their pickings to the shopkeeper Afif.