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Texts in English / Lebanon







The emir of Hasbeya dancing at Banias, sources of the Jordan, Lebanon, 08/07/1825


Madox, John: Excursions in the Holy Land, Egypt, Nubia, Syria, &c. London, Richard Bentley, 1934, 2 volumes. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.



Supper was now spread at our feet. Sixteen dishes or plates were laid nearly in a straight line, and the Prince descended from his couch and squatted down with all his attendants upon the pavement before them, inviting me to partake of them with him. The bread, like pancakes, was thrown upon the pavement in quantities, the lowest serving as a plate for the rest. They all began by dipping their fingers into the dish they preferred, scooping out some of its contents with doubled pieces of the thin bread. I sat next to the prince, and we, with a few near us, had wooden spoons. Seeing I was eating some rice which was merely boiled, he helped me from his own dish, to some that was seasoned upon meat, and with his spoon mixed them together. After the repast we resumed our seats, and the rest of the party cleaned the platters with their bread. We then smoked, and coffee was handed round.


The Prince wore large moustaches, but no beard; he was handsomely dressed in a maroon coloured cloth robe, with much gold embroidery upon it, a handsome vest, and blue trousers; his turban was large, with gold ornaments upon it; his sash elegant, and he had a couple of yatagans on his left side, the handles of beautiful filigree-worked gold, with his beads twisted round one, with which they number the times of their prayers. He appeared to be a mild and pleasant man, and always spoke with a smile upon his countenance. After he had retired (for he slept at one of the hovels in the village) the music of a sort of double flageolet, which I have before often heard amongst the mountains and on the Nile, was commenced, which, though not very harmonious, was amusing. The place and situation I was in, surrounded by beings so different from those of my own country, from which I was so distant - the fine moonlight night displaying the mountainous scenery around - the murmuring of the stream as it rushed from the rocky mountain near - not a friend to speak to - all combined to make me feel that my situation was an extraordinary one.


The music brought up the young prince, his cousin, and another, who began dancing. Holding each other by the hand, they advanced the foot, and, just pointing the toe to the ground, retreated one step and then advanced three, beating time with their feet: the motion was slow, and the outside party waved a handkerchief with the arm which was at liberty. Thus they passed away nearly an hour, during which time I was reposing upon my couch, and a party were smoking round a fire in the corner opposite to me. After the dancing, the young prince began to joke with his attendants and then most of them retired, through a few slept there.








A circus in Beirut, Lebanon, 1843-1845


Schroeder, Francis: Shores of the Mediterranean, with sketches of travel 1843-45. London, John Murray, 1846, 2 volumes.



There was evidenlty some cause for an unusual throng to-day, and we soon found the attraction to be a little circus, which some strolling Italian mountebanks had contrived outside the walls of the town. It was a rude enclosure of canvass and planks, like a country circus at home. Our cicerone procured admission for us, and getting upon the highest benches, amphitheatre-like, we had an entire view of the audience. A woman in page’s dress was riding in the ring, and dancing in the saddle, to the great admiration of two or three hundred spectators: there were clumsy contrivances by way of grillés boxes, from which a few Turkish women peeped through the loops of their yashmaks.






Balls at Beirut, Lebanon, 1842-1850


Neale, Frederick Arthur: Eight years in Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor, from 1842 to 1850, in 2 volumes. London, Colburn, 1851. Reprinted by Elibron Classics, 2002.



As the inhabitants grew more wealthy, greater attention began to be paid to dress and fashion. The Europeans set the example, and Turks, Greeks, and Armenians followed it; not that these latter gave up their Oriental costume, but this, in lieu of being of some ordinary material, was now made of rich silks and satins. The Franks promenaded in the latest Parisian fashions, and the natives in the richest Oriental robes. Among the latter the march of improvement went still further. Their sons were placed at schools, and they themselves had private tutors, so that there are few who cannot converse freely in Italian, the Lingua Franca of the East.


In fashionable accomplishments, as singing, dancing, music, &c., they have not as yet made much progress. It would not suit the gravity of an old Oriental merchant to be seen polking; and as for music, the greatest infliction to which a native can be exposed, in mixing with European society, is having to sit and listen to music, whether vocal or instrumental. I believe that their musical performances are equally cruel on Europeans. It is an imposition on good nature to be forced to endure an Arab concerto, or solos performed on violins by Cypriot Greeks.


Amongst the Europeans inhabiting Beyrout there are some first-rate musicians and pianists. Evening quadrille parties, or musical reunions, are of frequent occurrence; and some of the grandees occasionally give a ball, with a sumptuous supper, to which all the élite of every religion and costume are invited. On these occasions the Pasha’s band generally attends, and right well do they execute their duties. The uninitiated stranger, arriving from Aleppo, or Tripoli, or Latachia, is astounded to hear the latest polkas and waltzes admirably performed. Nor are the dancers one whit behind; the newest steps are executed, and a little foreigner, who is master of the ceremonies, is in such a state of extatic delight, that he actually forgets to twirl his moustachios, having both hands occupied in applauding rapturously.


The ball-room contains a motley assemblage, vastly amusing to those who do not dance. At the end of the room, perched on a divan of state, is the Pasha and some of the more distinguished Turks. These smoke and talk, and applaud alternately, looking upon the whole affair as a boy would at a puppet-show, and thinking that the ladies and their partners are capering about for their especial behoof and amusement. If there is anything that annoys them, it is the character of the music, which, is not half sedate enough, nor sufficiently lugubrious or out of time to suit their taste. When the waltz or the quadrille, or whatever it may be, is over, and the partners promenade in couples round the room, these grey-bearded children criticize the ladies, and are heard to exclaim Mashalla! if any particular belle happen to be rather stout, which is the standard of beauty in Turkey. After smoking an incredible number of pipes, and seeing a great many dances, and consuming whole gallons of very strong punch, the old fellows toddle home in very merry mood, thanking their stars that it was not in their own harems that they had just witnessed dancing, as in their hearts they look upon the affair as very indecorous as regards the ladies.


The native merchants are seated in groups of threes and fours in different parts of the room. They are not allowed to smoke in the ball-room, that privilege being enjoyed solely by the Pasha and his friends, and they pay little attention to what is going on, conversing chiefly on mercantile affairs, and similar interesting topics. They look upon the affair rather in the light of a nuisance, and do not like being kept so late out of bed; but they come as a matter of civility, and being there, feel themselves in duty bound to remain till after supper. Then after having done ample justice to the good things set before them, they go home with much the same impression as the Pasha. The Europeans, especially the younger men, remain till daylight, and it being then too late to go to bed, repair to their offices, where a great deal of soda water is consumed, and very little business done. The next night almost every one is in bed before eight o’clock, endeavouring to make up for sleep lost the night before. This will, perhaps, give the reader some faint idea of the great balls given at Beyrout, which, however, are of rare occurrence. The ordinary réunions break up before midnight; for the people are a strictly mercantile set, and late hours would interfere with their daily business. To such a pitch of refinement, however, has Beyrout arrived at the present day, that it is considered by the Levantines a perfect Syrian Paris.