The Castle of the Sea, Saïda, South Lebanon. Photo credit: François el Bacha
The Castle of the Sea, Saïda, South Lebanon. Photo credit: François el Bacha

Of the 2 castles owned by the city of Saïda, a city located 40 km south of the capital, the Château de la Mer is the best known. It appeared, for example, on the front of the banknotes of a Lebanese Pound from the 1950s and then twenty-five Lebanese Pounds in the 1970s.

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Crusader fortress, the shell of which will be installed on a quasi-island between 1227 and 1228, in the space of a single year, the Castle of the Sea of Saïda was one of the main defenses of the city at that time with, to the south, the Château de St Louis or Château de la Terre, for its part located on the old tell of the city.

Taken in 1111 by the Crusaders under the reign of Baudouin, king of Jerusalem, and with the help of the Norwegian fleet of Sigurd I, it will be granted in fief to Baron Eustache Granier or Garnier lord of Caesarea. His descendants will keep this lordship until 1260, when the city will be sacked by the Mongols in 1260. It will come back under the control of the Templars the same year and will then be definitively taken by the Mamluk Sultanate in 1291.

It is during this time that the decision will be taken to build a castle capable of protecting both the north, the port and the old town itself, thus completing the defensive system.

A castle built with the reuse of ancient stones

The castle is accessed by a contemporary stone bridge. In the rather clear waters, one will sometimes notice barrels of ancient columns which remain submerged.

Indeed, the building was built using re-use materials from ruins, probably those of a Phoenician temple that previously occupied the site, experts note, as evidenced by the barrels of the columns inserted into the walls. of its enclosure and its foundations.

The Château de la Mer thus presents itself as a wall, on the land side.

In its middle, the entrance door of the Castle, surmounted by a kind of bas-relief, presenting on each side, a lion and in its center, hunters armed with spears. It could be a lion hunting scene, such as was practiced during the time of the Crusades.

From the Crusader period, in addition to these walls, there is the tower of the keep in which there is an immense room of the guards, the walls of which are pierced with loopholes and more precisely numerous archières.

The foundations of the left keep are also from the Crusader period. However, this part will be rebuilt following the fall of Saida which passed into the hands of the Mamluks in 1291 and where there is a small Mosque. Indeed, the population of the city will therefore be mainly Muslim.

Of the old Crusader church, only one wall remains, which is now part of this Mosque.

Between the 2 dungeons, a courtyard is present.

The castle was damaged in 1840 by the bombardments of the British fleet.

Positioned strategically, this Castle allows to control, at the same time, the port of the city of Saïda but also offers a view on the city itself and its souks.

Getting there

Things to do nearby

Lunch at the Saïda rest-house. This rather local-style restaurant is located in the immediate vicinity of the Château. It presents oriental cuisine.

Visit the old souks of the city, a city full of charm and a taste of the Orient.

And also go to the Soap Museum located in the Audi Palace and the Debbanneh Palace.

Also, see the Khan al Franj, former consulate of France when the city was the economic capital of the Emirate of Mount Lebanon during Fakreddine, restored ten years ago and which now hosts, the French Institute of Saïda .

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