The word “Aley”
is derived from the
meaning “high place,”
in reference to the City’s
high altitude above sea level
• City 8.54 km2
• Metro 22 km2
Elevation: 600-950 m
The district of Aley is one of six districts in the Governorate of Mount Lebanon. The Damascus Highway marks its northern limit, Damour River its southern limit. It stretches from the Mediterranean coast to the west, rising to the east towards the peaks of the Barouk Mountain.
It is bounded on the north by Baabda District, on the east by Zahle District, on the west by Bekaa, and the south by the Chouf.
These 75 villages feature some of Lebanon’s most unique and significant historical and cultural landmarks – Lebanon’s only silk museum in Bsous, the House of Independence in Bchamoun, 15th century architectural antiquities in the ancient village of Abey, Phoenician and Roman ruins, and the birthplace of many of the country’s most famous literary, artistic, intellectual and political figures.
The word “Aley” is derived from Aramaic – Al Aliah – meaning “high place,” in reference to the City’s high altitude above sea level (from 600m up to 950m).
This high altitude is what contributes to its fame until today – clean fresh air – salubrious and refreshing; breathtaking views of the city, seas and stars.
In the 17th century, many French and American doctors visited Lebanon, and stayed in Aley. So taken were they by the purity of the atmosphere and uplifting environment, refreshing for the body and mind, they advised that it offered an excellent retreat for improving and maintaining health. One of these areas became known as “Jabal American”.
Until the end of the 19th century Aley was a small but notably important mountain village, but when the railroad linking Beirut with Damascus was built in 1892, it gained prominence and took on a new life.
The railroad provided the residents of Beirut easy means of transportation to the mountains, and this made Aley a popular destination to spend the summer months and enjoy its pleasant climate and panoramic views of Beirut and Sanine Mountain.
Aley became known as “The Bride of Summer” – “Arousat al Masayef” – its reputation known and envied at home and abroad.
But Aley was on the map long before the late 1800s …
As recorded in historic archives of the Library of the City of Riwan in France, families originating from Al Tannouk-Abu Fawares lived in Aley and its region before 1017 AD, and beyond.
Amongst those was Emir Abu Fawares Midad bin Yusef al Fawaresi.
Known as the “Sword of the Unitarian”, Emir Midad was born in the Western side of Mount Lebanon (El Bira village). He eventually settled in Flajien, an area within Aley, at the time when he occupied most of the region. He was considered a man of great faith and knowledge. He lived there until his passing, and still to be found in Flajien is the Emir Midad Shrine, where followers meet and worship the Unitarian faith.
In August 1117 AD, the leader of the Tannouki was Jamal Eddine Hajji bin Karami el Buhteri. At this time, King Nour Eddine Ayoubi, the ruler of Damascus, gave this leader all of the land of the western area, including an expanse of villages and farms. This was passed on to their families, through the generations.
In August 1182, the great warrior Sultan Saladin Ayoubi stayed one night in Aley before attempting to take over the European invasion in Beirut. He was surprised strategically and was forced to retreat to Damascus, passing through Aley on his return journey. His daring escapade was recorded by the prestigious French historian, René Grousset in his Book “Historie des Croisades”.
The distinguished 15th century historian and scholar Saleh bin Yehya recorded many of these early events in his book, “The History of Beirut”, which was later edited and re-printed by the prolific writer and researcher Father Louis Cheikho (Catholic Press Beirut 1927) under the title “The History Of Beirut And The News Of The Buhteri Princes From Bani Al Gharb by Saleh Bin Yehya”, and later again by the eminent Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi (who was born in the nearby village of Bhamdoun).
An exalted descendent of the Tannouki tribe was Jamal Eddine Abdullah Buhteri Tannouki (1417-1479) – known as Sayyed Abdullah Tannouki. He studied and died in the nearby historic village of Abey, where a shrine of great significance was erected in his honour.
His student was Hamza Ibn Sibat bin Ahmad al-Aalihi el Tannouki (?-1520), one of Lebanon’s first and greatest annalists of knowledge and education, who was born and lived in the village of Aley. He continued the work of Saleh bin Yahya, chronicling events in Lebanon for the period 1132-1520. He was also known for his poetry, as well as for his biographical accounts of Druze sages, including Emir al-Sayyed Abdullah al-Tannoukhi.
His writings are to this today considered a valuable resource for archivists and historians.
His father was Shihab Al-Din Ahmad Ibn Sibat, also from Aley. He was a disciple of Emir Sayyed, and both he and his father were imams of the mosque of Abay. He was a respected 15th century educator and writer who excelled in the Quranic sciences.
Around 1570, after various struggles in Beirut and other regions, the Talhouk clan found its way to Aley (as well as Aytat and Baissour), where it settled and was instrumental in the early development of the village.
During the next few hundred years – the periods of Maan and Shehab – Lebanon knew many conflicts for leadership – some of which extended to the area of Aley, including the infamous Battle of Ain Dara (1711). It was during this period that the Shehab honoured the Talhouks for their loyalty, and rewarded them with authority over Aley and surrounding areas.
For better or worse, Aley experienced the diverse influences of many foreign authorities.
From 1861, the Ottoman presence was observed more strongly in the Mount Lebanon area. During this period of time, France’s General Maxime Weygand (1887–1942) established a base in Aley.
The Armenian-Ottoman Garabet Artin Davoudian (1816-1873) – better known as Daoud (Dawud) Pacha – who governed Mount Lebanon from 1861-1868, frequented the district of Aley, establishing a highly acclaimed school in 1862 at Abey, which continues to bear his name today – al-Daoudiyya.
Up until 1914, there were many more Pachas who made their presence felt in Aley – one of the most remembered among them being the Italian-born Rustem Mariani Pacha (tenure 1873-1882). He resided in Aley during the summers and, in 1878, held a frequent “diwan”, erecting more than 30 large tents in which to meet the people of the area, and discuss their needs. The music and festivities attracted many people from surrounding villages.
Emir Mustafa Arslan also spent summers in Aley, to be in close contact with Rustem Pacha.
The Albanian-born Vasa Pacha (also known as Wassa Pacha) (tenure 1882-1892) opened the road between Beirut (Furn el Chebbek) and Aley, and connected it with Zahle, widening the roads, thereby increasing accessibility to Aley and neighbouring villages.
The term of Aleppo-born Naoum Pacha (tenure 1892-1902) coincided with a pivotal period in Aley’s history – the construction of the railway.
The arrival of the railway in Aley in 1892 attracted commerce, investors and vacationers, welcoming a new era of prosperity.
Sheikh Hussein Mahmoud Talhouk (1846-1916) was a man of vision and foresight and actively encouraged the railway to pass through Aley.
He offered immense grounds, extending from Jamhour to Aley, to ensure the passage of the train. In order to be sure that it would stop in the village of Aley (and thus contribute to its economic development), he had the station built on a property owned by his wife, Zalfa Assaad Talhouk, which had its own source of water, an essential requirement for steam locomotives.
Sheikh Hussein also built the Souk – “Sayha” – including more than 20 merchant shops, and opened the road from the Souk in Aley to m’Sheikh district.
These shops, with their magnificent arched ceilings of solid stone, represent some of Lebanon’s most historic architecture of that period – sadly, they are mostly now neglected or “modernised”, bearing little resemblance to their former splendour.
A man ahead of his time, Sheikh Hussein Talhouk actively participated in tourism and helped to create a name for Aley as a summer holiday destination.
In the late 1800s, the accomplished Lebanese businessman Michel Habib Boustros was encouraged by Sheikh Hussein Talhouk to establish a base for himself in Aley.
In 1885, Boustros built the first residential castle in Aley. It became a beacon, luring many other wealthy aristocratic families to construct villas of exceptional grandeur in Aley and surrounding areas – including Sursock, Asseily, Ketteneh, Kassir, Fkeih, Trad, Pharaoun, Temer …
Boustros built a magnificent mansion with sprawling gardens on a strategic hilltop adjacent the “Balcony” – enjoying unrestricted views of Beirut and the surrounding mountains.
In 1895, Emir Toufic Arslan (1870-1931) – the father of Emir Majid Arslan – built his residence on the main road near the entrance to Aley – it is now the location of the Emir Faisal Arslan Museum.
On 7 November 1898, Aley welcomed its first recorded visitors of royal standing – Kaiser Wilhem II, King of Prussia and his wife, Augusta Viktoria.
His tour of the Levant, which included Beirut, Aley and Baalbeck, attracted international attention, with postcards and books published to chronicle and commemorate the event.
The entire journey was also recorded in the Kaiser’s official travel chronicle: “Das Deutsche Kaiserpaar im Heiligen Lande” (The German Imperial Couple in the Holy Land), printed in 1899.
After a tour of Beirut, the Kaiser and his entourage made their way to the train station, his favored choice of transportation, first stop Aley.
This excerpt describes the journey:
“Thousands of people in colorful robes stand in the villages and on the cliffs … They wave with palm branches and long staffs, to which they have fastened bouquets of flowers, and let out merry yodels of enthusiasm. The riches
In 1908, Aley elected its first municipality:
• Sheikh Mahmoud Talhouk – President
• Mohammed Fkeih – Vice President
• Members of the Board – Ismael Obeid, Sleiman Jurdi, Najm Halimi, Salman Akl, Yusef Dleikan, Assaad Shmait, Rachid Bitar, Iskander Halaf
Aley owes to the Talhouk, not only the passage of the railroad, but also the water that Sheikh Mahmoud Hussein Talhouk (1872-1960) brought from Hammana, in around 1912-1913, advancing to the municipality of which he was the president, the sum of 100 gold lira (Constantinople).
He also encouraged tourism and assisted many families to build and establish their base in Aley – including the Gebeily brothers.
It was not long before Aley was acknowledged as one of the country’s most desirable destinations, especially during the summer.
The groves of pines, terraces of vines, orchards of figs, mulberries and apples – this land which bore produce of such exceptional quality it once commanded a premium price in all the region – slowly made way at first for stately homes with grandiose gardens, later multi-storey apartment buildings of countless shapes and sizes.
From the early 1900s, Aley was recognised as a centre of learning and education, attracting students from all over Lebanon and the Arab States.
The first school in Aley was established in 1907 by Elias Chibil Khoury (born in the nearby village of Kfar Amay). Known as the UCL (United College of Lebanon), the school had many famous graduates in politics, law, science, etc; and has maintained its reputation of excellence until today.
In 1917, Afifi Saab and her sisters established a school for girls – Sirat College. It also provided a high level of education and attracted many female students locally and internationally.
Rahbat School – “Nunnery School” – was another successful centre of education.
Education in Aley later became synonymous with the famous educator and author, Maroun Abboud, known as Abu Mohammed (1886-1962), who taught at UCL from 1923 for a period of more than 30 years. Such was the impression he left in the hearts and minds of the community, a college was named in his honour.
During WW1 (1914-1918), Jamal Pacha took Aley as a strategic base for an army barrack of the 4th battalion of the Turkish empire. For many years, revolutionaries were captured and imprisoned in Aley, before being hung at the gallows, of which remnants still remain near Casino Piscine Aley.
In 1920, General Henri Gouraud (1867-1946) was a summer resident in Aley, which became a base for his negotiations with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, during the time of the dispute between France and Syria.
General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) was also seen in Aley during this period of time.
In the 1940s, at the start of the second world war, the British army requisitioned the Hotel Gebeily as its headquarters, setting up a command and communication centre within the building. Later, when the allied forces – led by the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) along with British and French troops – invaded Syria and Lebanon, the AIF general who headed the offensive used the hotel as his HQ.
This strategic location played a pivotal role in the history of Lebanon’s independence. Alas, this same war led to the demise of the Hotel, which never recovered its former status.
Also during WW2, British General Edward Louis Spears, who assisted the independence movement from 1942 until 1945, occupied Emir Majid Arslan’s residence in Aley. British soldiers dug a corridor beneath the garden floor, reaching the opposite side of the south of the Damascus Road, to avoid enemy bombard.
Memorabilia from this period of time has been preserved in the Emir Faisal Arslan Museum.
Aley’s appeal was magnetic – like moths to a flame, the village attracted presidents and politicians, poets and penmen, stars of the stage and screen …
Writers, Poets, Intellectuals:
From the early 1900s, Aley hosted some of the greatest writers, poets and intellectual minds, from Lebanon and neighbouring countries.
From the late 1920s, two of the Arab world’s literary giants – Lebanon’s Bechara Abdullah Khoury (The Charming Poet – Al Akhtal al Saghir) (1885-1968) and Egypt’s “Prince of Poets” Ahmed Shawqi (1870-1932) – savoured many summers together in the magnificent Hotel Gebeily, often enjoying a private “diwan” with a close circle of their literary cohorts. Such was the aura and ambience – elevating and transcending their minds and imaginations, their hearts and souls, to another dimension. It is of no surprise that many of these scholars’ most famous works were penned in these serene and splendacious surroundings.
Amin Rihani (1876-1940), the much-admired writer, intellectual and activist, was a regular visitor to Aley and surrounding villages. In his book “The Heart of Lebanon” he wrote: “Is there anywhere in the mountains other than Sofar and Aley to relax in a healthy spot with some fresh air? I’ve broken my ribs on this trip.”
Other famous intelligentsia to frequent Aley included:
• Said Akl (1911-2014) – Lebanese poet, philosopher, writer, playwright
• George Jurdak (1931 – 2014) – journalist, author, poet and educator
• George Ibrahim el Khoury – editor of al Chabaka magazine
• Mikhail Naimy (1889-1998) – the famous writer and philosopher from Baskinta
• Yusef el Sabagh –
• Said Freiha (1905-1978) – prominent journalist and activist
• The great Iraqi-Lebanese poet, Ahmed el Safi el Nafaji (1897-1977)
• Sheikh Ahmed Aref el Zein (1884-1960), from Jabal Amel – the editor of Al-Irfan magazine, prominent intellectual and activist
• Philanthropist Aref Beik el Nakedi (1887-1975 – the esteemed founder of Beit al Yateem (Druze Orphanage) in nearby Abey, was also a regular visitor to Aley, where he had many friends and associates.
Many famous zajal troupes duelled in Aley, including:
Talih Hamdan (from Ain Anoub), “Chahrour el Wadi” (Assaad el-Khoury el-Féghali from Wadi Chahrour), Joseph el-Hashem (Zaghloul el Damour), Moussa Zgheib, the famous Zein Chaib.
Aley welcomed some of Lebanon and the Arab world’s greatest singers, musicians, entertainers and actors to its stages:
• The legendary Sabah (Jeanette Feghali) (1927-2014), born in the neighbouring village of Wadi Chahrour, delivered her first performance on stage, at the age of 13, at the renowned Hotel Tanios. It was to be the beginning of a remarkable career on both stage and screen, spanning more than seven decades. She returned on many occasions to the stage of Tanios, and such was her love for Aley that she maintained a summer residence in Ras el Jabal, opposite the palace of Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, Prince of Kuwait
• Celebrated chanteuse, the iconic and incomparable Fairuz (Nouhad Haddad) (born 1935) sang in Aley for the first time in 1952, at Casino Piscine Aley.
• The revered vocalist and musician, the master and magician of the oud, Farid el Atrache (1917-1944) performed in Aley on many occasions in the 1930s and early 40s. He frequently stayed during the summer months, enjoying the company of his many friends and admirers.
His sister, Amal el Atrache (1912-1944) – better known by her stage name “Asmahan” – also performed in Casino Piscine Aley, and such was her fame that a villa on the outskirts of the city of Aley was named in her honor, and to this day still bears her name – “Villa Asmahan“.
• The supreme songstress, the inimitable and immortal Om Kalsoum (1898-1975) appeared in concert at the Casino Piscine Aley.
• Fayza Ahmed (1934-1983), whiled away many summers in Aley and built a villa in the Zahar area, where she resided every summer.
• Singers Mohammed Salman (1925-1977) and his wife Najah Salam (1931-2023) spent summers in Aley, and built a home near Piscine Aley.
There were many, many more:
• Egyptian singer and actress Shadia (1931-2017)
• Wadih Safi (1938-2013) – famed singer, songwriter, composer and actor
• The eminent musician, actor, singer, composer and comedian Philomen Wehbe (1918-1985)
• The venerable Lebanese-Egyptian comedic actor Abdul Salam Nabulsi (1899-1968)
• Abdul Halim Hafez (1929-1977) – Egyptian singer, actor, conductor, film producer
• French singer and entertainer Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972)
• Singer and entertainer Bob Azzam (1925-2004)
But perhaps the first international name to be seduced by the unique beauty and picturesque serenity of Aley was Mohammed Abdul Wahab (1897-1991), the acclaimed Egyptian actor, singer and composer.
In 1935-1936, he honoured Hotel Gebeily as the location for the filming of scenes in his second movie, Damour el Hob (Tears of Love). In this movie, which also starred the Egyptian actress, Nagat Ali (1919-1993), the splendour of this majestic hotel came to life on the silver screen … the Hotel was known and admired, from near and afar.
This movie showcased Aley, in all its grace and glory, to the Orient and beyond.
But Abdul Wahab’s love affair with Aley did not end there.
During the 1940s-50s, Abdul Wahab made an annual summer pilgrimage to Aley, where he stayed at Tanios Hotel, and also performed at several venues, and is believed to have penned some of his greatest works – including Habib Majhoul (The Unknown Lover), Mahreit al la Beit al Haybayab (I passed the Home of the Loved One), and the mesmerising Musica L’Layli Lebnan (The Music of Lebanon at Night).
At this point in time, Aley was truly a capital of art and culture, intellect and elegance.
Lebanese Presidents & Prime Ministers who spent summers in Aley:
Habib Bachar Saad (born in Ain Trez)
Bechara el Khoury (born in Rechmaya)
Riad el Solh
Takieddine el Solh
Hussein el Ouweini
Rachid el Solh
Many other political figures, diplomats, bureaucrats and deal-brokers lived in and visited Aley during the summer months – if only the walls could speak, the fate of people and the nation was surely discussed, if not decided, within these abodes.
It would be remiss at this point that we do not include mention of Aley’s home-grown stars of the stage and screen:
• Abu Melhem (Adib Hadded) and his wife Oum Melhem (Salwa Farès el-Haj) became synonymous with Aley. Such was their fame and adulation, all of Lebanon knew the village of Aley as the home of these much-adored and admired actors.
• Wadih Salibi – Playwright and actor
• Khalil Salibi (Qattoura) – Comedic actor
Its reputation now firmly established, it was “fait accomplis” that Aley would attract royalty and dignitaries from the surrounding Arab region.
The 1950s-60s marked a “changing of the guards” – the intellectuals and aristocracy who once frequented Aley, and were influenced by European teachings and traditions, began to make way for the Kings and Princes of the Gulf. The Arabs wanted to buy, and many in the Mount Lebanon area were happy to sell, blinded and beguiled by previously unimagined profits.
It was a time of great change – this sudden influx of wealth into Aley and surrounding districts was both a blessing and a curse.
Escaping the stifling summer heat of their homelands, attracted by the clean air, pristine surroundings, enviable views and cultured environment, Aley offered a “breath of life” to these dwellers of the deserts.
Evolution was inevitable – The village that once knew bow-ties and ballgowns now witnessed flowing white kaftans and black abayas.
Many Arabs began to visit Aley on a regular basis, and many constructed multi-level castles of their own, so as to enjoy a permanent place of residence during their summer sojourns. Many soon spread their wings to the nearby village of Bhamdoun.
But by summer’s end the migration would begin … like flocks of birds following the seasons. No sooner had one raised a wing in flight, than the entire flock of vacationers would be rising into the air, returning to their arid homelands. By the end of September, the exodus would be almost complete, with just a few tardy travellers to eat the dust. This would become a hallmark of Aley’s summer tourist seasons.
Many historic homes and landmarks, once the pride and pleasure of noble and distinguished families, were sold to foreign interests during this time:
• Among the first palace to change hands was that of former President Bechara el Khoury, bought by Kuwaiti Prince Abdullah Mubarak Al-Sabah. (It was later sold to MP, Emir Talal Arslan.)
• Michel Chiha (the Lebanese banker, politician, writer and journalist born in the adjacent village of Bmekine) and Sami Choucair followed suit, also selling their properties to the Kuwaiti prince.
• Bahrain’s Sheikh Khalifa bin Isa bought the residence of the Temer family.
• Qatar’s Sheikh Ahmed Ali Al-Thani bought the Ketteneh villa.
???? Asseily Family Residence
Large allotments of prime location land also were sold, and extravagant palaces were constructed. No expense was spared – their interiors as sumptuous as their magnificently manicured landscapes.
Summer visitors from the Gulf included:
• Crown Prince Faisal, who later became leader of Saudi Arabia, spent summer in Aley during the 1950s
• King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia
• Prince of Republic of Kuwait, Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah built a castle in Aley in which to relax every summer, from the early 1960s
• Queen Narriman, wife of Egypt’s King Farouk
• Saudi business magnate Ibrahim Shaker built a palatial villa on a strategic hilltop in Ras el Jabal
During the 1960s, Emir Majid Arslan welcomed many famous figures to his home in Aley (now the Emir Faisal Arslan Museum).
Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani was a guest in 1962, when he was Crown Prince of Qatar. Prince Moulay Abdullah of Morocco stayed at the palace in 1961 during preparations for his wedding to Princess Lamia al-Solh. Her father, Prime Minister Riad al-Solh frequently vacationed in Aley and he considered the palace his second home.
President Elias Sarkis was also a frequent visitor, and observed the outlook from the palace terrace, overlooking the mountains, to be one of the most beautiful views in Lebanon.
During the leadership of Aley’s Mayor Naim Mrad (tenure 1962-1971), Aley enjoyed visits from many foreign and local dignitaries:
• Haile Selessie, Emperor of Ethiopia (from 1930 to 1974)
• Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first President of Senegal (from 1960-1980)
• King Hussein of Jordan
In the 1940s-50s, Aley’s reputation as a cosmopolitan city was firmly established, becoming the destination of choice for international conferences. Its central location made it an ideal base for visiting delegations to explore surrounding areas during their sojourn.
In 1950, the AUB monthly magazine “Al Kulliyah” described Aley as “the busiest and most popular summer resort in Lebanon”.
In July 1950, the Arab Women’s Federation sent delegates from Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine to Aley for its annual Conference.
Attendees included President of the Conference, Ibtihaj Khaddoura (who resided in Aley for many years) and Nazek Sarkis, General Secretary of the Federation – both among the most prominent Lebanese women activists of their time.
The closing banquet was held in Aley on 7 July, and attended by the Prime Minister, Riad el Solh.
• Hotel Windsor – Located in the heart of the souk in Aley, built by J. and W. Takla, and officially opened in 1924.
• Hotel Gebeily – Built in 1926 by three brothers from a wealthy Beiruti trading family, the hotel was designed by the famous Italian architect Bindo Manham. The hotel was the location for the 1936 movie “D’Amour el Hob” (Tears of Love) starring Mohammed Abdul Wahab.
• Casino Piscine Aley – Designed by the visionary Aley architect Toufic Dleikan in 1932. A summertime destination for the rich and famous, it played host to performers including Om Kalthoum, Farid el Atrache, Asmahan and Sabah.
• Hotel Subh – Built in 1932 by Najib Subh, the only hotel of its era to still open its doors to guests today, with gratitude to the dedication of his son, Massoud Subh
• Hotel Tanios – Built by Tanios ash-Chemali, this landmark hotel welcomed tourists from around the globe, foreign dignitaries, famous artists and celebrities, including Om Kalthoum, Farid el Atrach and his sister Asmahan.
There were many other prominent hotels, including – Claridge, Villa Hotel Ouweiss, Rond Point, Hotel Shahine, Continental, Bahar el Khabir, Hadawiyeh, Casanova, Opera Aida …
Aley was also the cinema capital of the mountains, boasting eight movies theatres, some of which also featured a stage – Cinema Subh, Miami, Rex, Eden, Tanios, Nasr, Donia, Sayha.
Relaxation and respite by day, cabarets and cocktails by night – Aley’s cosmopolitan nightlife attracted merrymakers from Beirut and beyond … Pierrot, Chandelle, TamTam, Omar Khayam … artists came from Paris, Germany, Rome, London, performing from dusk til dawn.
Fast forward to 1999 … emerging from the destruction of the civil war, Aley would begin to renew its artistic inclinations.
The illustrious painter/sculptor of international renown, Aref el Rayess, who was born and bred in Aley, suggested a bold creative initiative to Aley’s visionary Mayor, Wajdi Mrad – to invite sculptors from around the world to come to Aley, to create an open-air art exhibition.
And so began a project to be known as Symposium Aley, spanning a period of three years, with the endorsement of the Mayor and Municipality, and participation of sculptors from 30 countries.
To this day, it remains a popular attraction for residents and tourists alike.
In the early 2000s, another wave of Arab “investment” swept Aley and its region – and, once again, homes, lands and souls were sold to the highest bidders.
The city experienced unprecedented capital growth – real estate prices soared, the souk was alive with a rush of action and activity that had not been seen since the 60s. It seemed that the “glory days” had returned, as Lebanese and Arabs alike swarmed to Aley, as bees to a hive, filling to capacity the streets and restaurants on balmy summer evenings, partying as if every day might be the last …
Since its inception as a city in the late 1800s, Aley has been the birthplace and home of many of Lebanon’s noteworthy scholars, artists, actors, scientists, doctors, writers, lawyers, politicians, activists …
• Jamil Talhouk (1884 – 1957): administrator and politician, mayor of Aley, member of the Representative Council, deputy 1927 and 1943, Minister in 3 governments 1945-1946.
• Melhem Ibrahim Talhouk (1908 – 1998): lawyer and diplomat, Secretary-General of the Shura Council, Consul and Ambassador, Director of Cultural Affairs, bears several honors.
• Afif Jamil Talhouk: writer and translator, born 1945, author of books and translations.
• Asaad Talhouk: a former minister in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
• Fadlallah Mahmoud Talhouk (1915 – 1998): judge and politician, deputy 1960, 1964, and 1968.
• Mounir Talhouk: ambassador.
• Dr. Abdul Munim Salim Talhouk: scientist, researcher and university professor, born 1924, postgraduate degrees in biology, chemistry and zoology, Ph.D. in entomology, author of many international scientific papers and books.
• Anis Jaber: Aley’s first lawyer, also a journalist, writer and poet. He created the magazine “Sada Al-Alam”. Author of books.
• Shakib Jaber (d. 1965): lawyer and political activist, member of the Progressive Socialist Party’s board of directors and local, Arab and international committees, fronts, and bodies, author of books.
• Dr. Afif Naif Hatoum: University professor, born 1933, PhD in Arabic literature, author of books.
• Adeeb Al-Haddad (1912 – 1986): Poet, author, TV and theater actor known as “Abu Melhem”, captain of the Lebanese Artists Syndicate, won many awards and honors.
• Anis Khalaf: poet, born 1908.
• Dr. Aref Masoud al-Rayess (1910 – 1965): physician, director of quarantine, physician of the judiciary.
• Dr. Shafik Salim al-Rayess (1927 – 1975): dentist and thinker, author of the book “The Lebanese Challenge”.
• Aref El Rayess: plastic artist, born 1928, president of the Association of Lebanese Artists for Painting and Sculpture, then vice president 1998, winner of Lebanese, Arab and foreign prizes.
• Fouad Al Rayess: writer, poet, journalist, industrialist, union and social activist, born in 1937, General Coordinator of the Permanent Office of Druze Institutions in Beirut, author of books.
• Riad Najeeb Al Rayess: a contemporary journalist and writer, he founded a publishing house, author of books.
• Sania Zaitoun: the first Lebanese female engineer who joined the Engineers Syndicate in 1942.
• Sleiman Dleikan: Aley’s foremost realist painter, commissioned by the government of Kuwait to design many collections of commemorative postage stamps, coins, etc.
• Waheeda al-Faqih Sharaf al-Din: Founder of the “Social Message Association”, recipient of the Lebanese Order of Merit.
• Youssef Fares Shmait: military officer and politician, born in 1910, chief of staff and head of the third office in the Lebanese army, inspector general, colonel and chief of staff, under-secretary of the Ministry of Interior for coordinating internal security affairs in the government of President Ahmed Daouk in 1960, holds several decorations.
• Naim Suleiman Shehayeb: An engineer and writer, born in 1927. He established the literary Forum of Faith.
• Akram Chehayeb: born 1947, member of the leadership council of the Progressive Socialist Party, appointed deputy 1991, elected 1992, 1996 and 2000, Minister of the Environment 1996, head of the Aley Festivals Committee.
• Sheikh Kamel Assaf: a sculptor, a student of his father and of the artist Aref Al Rayess at the American University, has distinguished works, won several awards.
• Emile Ayache: one of Lebanon’s foremost sculptors, his works have been commissioned internationally.
• Monsignor Youssef Chalhoub El-Fegali: clergyman, educator and social activist, Ohio parish priest in 1951, established a national cultural movement in Ohio, where he founded an exemplary Arabic language school, President Camille Chamoun awarded him the Order of the Cedars 1954. Pope Pius XII promoted him to the rank of Monsignor. The American government honored him with a celebration in his honor.
• Dr. Joseph Feghali: Doctor, founder of maternity hospital in Aley and another in Beirut, member of international obstetric associations, author of medical lectures and publications, holder of the Lebanese Gold Medal of Merit.
• Fayez Ali Al-Faqih (1940 – 1987): writer, a member of the Lebanese Writers Union, author of several books.
• Shafik Ali al-Faqih: a writer, teacher and painter, born in 1928. He held exhibitions and worked as a teacher; author of books.
• Jamila Al-Faqih: lawyer and fiction writer, author of books.
• Henry El Kek: journalist
• Dr. Salim Yusef Murad: scientist, born in 1933, Ph.D. in neutron radiation from Einstein University in Germany, responsible for oil pumps in Kuwait in 1953, technological officer at the Center for Space and Satellite Research in Oberfaffen, where he designed a pioneering rocket to study atmospheric layers and transmit them to Earth; many registered patents.
• Monier Abou Fadel (1912-1987) – Born in the nearby village of Ain Anoub, he was a member of the Lebanese Parliament for thirty consecutive years (1957-1987) representing the district of Aley. He was a resident in Aley for much of his life.
The civil war and Syrian occupation changed the corporal and cerebral landscape of Aley in myriad ways:
The site where the Municipality offices now stand
Remembered for its imposing gates and majestic gardens, it was sadly demolished during the early 1970s, to make way for the Municipality offices.
As for the Tanios villa villa – around the 1970s, its once glorious entrance was torn down to widen the road, and later (2000s) it was remodelled to accommodate the modern facade of a commercial bank.
The residential gate later bore the plaque “Villa Fkeih”, followed several years later by “Villa Wahab”.
Adjacent this villa is a popular landmark – “The Balcony” – offering sweeping views of Lebanon, from Beirut to Beit Mery.
Originally constructed by the French in the early 1900s, it was later “modernised”.
This modernisation included the beginnings of a massive structure which was erected in the 1970s, obliterating much of the skyline. It has remained since then as an unfinished and abandoned concrete skeleton, a blight on the horizon, its progress allegedly stalled by a “political misunderstanding”.
As for those magnificent villas, built by aristocrats, presidents and princes:
Many now stand in ruins, damaged beyond repair by the war, others looted and vandalised without decency or discretion during the Syrian occupation, they are derelict and deserted … the photographic preserve of urban (“urbex”) explorers …
Many more were lamentably demolished, with scant regard for their heritage or history, to make way for monolithic high-rise apartments of negligible architectural merit (of which so many remain empty and lifeless).
Other once-magnificent villas, with glorious views, have now been boxed-in by high-rises. Their scenery obliterated, they are no longer prime location residences.
Some historic villas remain standing, forsaken and forgotten – their owners are far away, leaving their homes as they left them, seemingly never to return. Of these, some are now the domains of “squatters”, taking the liberty to occupy these disused dwellings.
Without a vision for the future, astute urban planning, judicious architectural or environmental policies, or heritage conservation strategies, Aley sadly fell victim to the greed of unenlightened developers, losing forever much of what once made it an alluring, unique and envied location across Lebanon, the Orient and beyond.
It could be said that the civil war created less destruction than the free-for-all building frenzy that followed it.
Its fate can, perhaps, be compared to downtown Beirut – its irreplaceable archaeology and architecture razed in favour of dollars and “development”, creating vast areas of historic and cultural wasteland.
Before his death, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri lamented his heavy-handed “development” policies, regretting that he had destroyed and not restored the heritage houses of Beirut.
Most of Aley’s newer abodes, the legacy of foreign “investors”, today remain intact, but these massive mansions lie dark, gloomy and desolate inside, ostensively discarded, their owners are now strangers to Aley, their properties inhabited by guard-dogs, and “caretakers” who tend the gardens for “mythical” owners.
As for those once great and glorious hotels:
Hotel Gebeily stands strong, imposing and resilient, but deserted, its once expansive views now punctuated by a clutter of achromatic concrete … its silence and stillness occasionally broken by a TV crew filming episodes for its latest soap opera …
Hotel Tanios was razed to the ground, its history and its memories crushed to rubble, replaced by a towering modern hotel complex which has yet to open – a veritable white elephant … its patrons as yet unknown …
Hotel Subh clings to survival, retaining (against the odds) its quaint authenticity and century-old charm, but its once-famous Cinema closed its doors long ago …
Although it still carries its original name, Casino Piscine Aley is no longer a casino (those days are long gone and unlikely to return), occasionally resurrecting itself as a “piscine” and wedding venue during the summer months …
And yet, Aley lives on … in our hearts, minds and souls it was and always will be “Arousat al Masayef” – the “Bride of Summer” …
Regardless of the passages of time, the ravages of war, and the winds of change, it is a city without equal or comparison …
We honour Aley’s historic past and await with anticipation and hopeful expectation to record the next chapter in its inexorable evolution.