Villa Asmahan - Aley, Lebanon

Villa Asmahan


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Abroyan & Asmahan

On the border of Aley and Dhour el-Abadiyeh, is a fairytale castle with an intriguing history.

Villa Asmahan (as it is commonly known) was built circa 1940s, by Armenian business man Abro Abroyan.

The residence was designed by the French-Armenian architect Mardiros Altounian (1889-1958).

Altounian was also architect of the Lebanese Parliament House in Beirut and Abed Tower (among others). He designed the plans for the Armenian Sanitorium in Azounieh, for which Jamil Talhouk later secured the water supply by establishing the Bkhechtay-Aley water supply project.

Abro Abroyan was originally from Constantinople, and suffered the effects of the Armenian genocide.

In 1920, he established a highly successful knitting factory, the size of a city block, in Bourj Hammoud, old Sin el Fil Road. Taking advantage of the boycott on imports during World War 2, the firm emerged as a leading business and – by the end of the 1960s – it managed two large production plants supplying the Lebanese and Arab markets. Abroyan was famous in most of the Arab countries, especially Lebanon, as his textiles were competitive to those produced in Europe.

Fact or Fiction?

Abro Abroyan was one of the founders of the Lebanese Chamber for Commerce and Industry, where he continued as a member for many years. He was an active member of AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union) and was also well-known for his generosity to the Armenian church in Etchmiadzin (Yerevan, Armenia). He died 28 May 1960. His factory continued to operate for many years, eventually unable to compete with imports.

The famous chanteuse Amal El Atrach (better known by her stage name, Asmahan), was born on 25 November, 1917, in Syria. She died on 14 July, 1944. She was the sister of the legendary singer and musician, Farid El Atrache.

According to legend, Abro Abroyan built the villa as a gift for Asmahan. Some say that Asmahan stayed in the villa whenever she was in Aley, performing at venues including Hotel Tanios and Casino Piscine Aley. Others say Asmahan never set foot inside the villa.

In 2008, Al Mawed magazine published an interview with Asmahan’s only daughter, Kamellia.

She offered this insight into the history of Villa Asmahan:

“Villa Asmahan was not really her palace, she never lived in it.
“Rather, it belonged to an Armenian who, in the 1940s, bequeathed large quantities of kerosene stoves on which people used to cook in those days.
“But the English prevented him from unloading the ship’s cargo, so he went to my mother to solve the issue for him, after he told her that if these were confiscated, the loss of the goods would be huge.
“My mother made some calls and the merchant was allowed to receive his goods.
“The merchant was very happy and wanted, as a token of gratitude, to offer her a villa in Aley, but she completely refused that and told him – ‘When we provide a service, we do not take anything in return’.
“And the story spread that this Armenian merchant presented the palace to Asmahan, but she had nothing to do with this palace. She never owned it and she never lived in it.”

In the same article, Kamellia reminisced about spending her younger days with her family in the picturesque village of Sawfar, where they received guests including Muhammad Abdul Wahab, Youssef Wehbi, Abd al-Salam al-Nabulisi and his wife, Georgette.

Inside & Out

Today, Villa Asmahan is beautifully restored – inside and out. The gardens are as one would imagine them to have been in the castle’s golden days. Giant pines and fir trees line the driveways, almost obscuring parts of the mansion from view.

The villa’s trademark red turret roof is still as it was some 70 years ago.

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A Bygone Era

Traditional furnishings and antiques are true to the original character of the building, from chrystal chandaliers to beautifully woven carpets and 18th century ornaments.

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Villa Asmaham was built on three titles, covering some 8,300 square metres.

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Villa Asmahan

Villa Asmahan is today primarily a location for weddings and functions.

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Heather & Sami Eljurdi

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