Located in the locality and the namesake caza in the heart of the « Wadi Taym » valley in the southern part of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range, about 84 km southwest of Beirut and just 10 km from the borders with Syria, the citadel of Rachaya whose origins would be older – Canaanite, Greco-Roman, Arab, but also Crusaders – was originally , in its current configuration, a Palace built by the Chehab Emirs in the 18th century.
The citadel, located at 1400 meters of attitude, covers an area of 8000 square meters. Only a few stones that can still be seen in its basements today would date back to the cross-period of construction. The Crusaders had in fact built a tower to house the foundations of Roman remains in order to defend themselves against the Arab armies. Local sources claim that an underground gallery 1500m in length would link the citadel to the town of Ain Mry near the Aqba-Bkifa triangle.
Gradually, transformed into a strong place because of its strategic location at the foot of Mount Hermon also called Jabal al-Sheikh, and despite its remoteness from the Lebanese capital, the citadel will play a major role in two key moments in the modern history of the nation, namely the Great Druze Revolt and the Independence of Lebanon.
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The Great Druze Revolt
Occupying the premises from 1920, the French troops, present in accordance with the Mandate established by the League of Nations, had to make the Druze rebels led by Zayd al-Atrash, for 4 days, from 20 to 24 November 1925, who had retreated to the region after the recapture of Damascus. 3000 Druze fighters will face the 4th squadron of the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment(1ster REC) of the Foreign Legion, with a hundred men and commanded by Captain Landriau.
The objective of the rebel operation was to build a bridge between Lebanese and Syrian Druze regions and thus cut off the communications of the French Army between the coast and the hinterland. The Great Druze Revolt also risked turning into a sectarian conflict between the latter and the Christians following the capture of the town of Marjayoun or the massacres of Maronites had occurred. To cope, the troops of the Levant will transform the citadel of Rachaya into a base of operation.
As early as November 20, taking advantage of the nightfall, the rebels infiltrated the defense put in place by the French troops and seized part of the fortress to be repelled. Heavy fighting ensued within the fortress for the next three days, until a French bayonet charge forced the rebels to retreat outside.
At the end of these 3 days, short of ammunition, Captain Landriau decided to « do Camerone » by launching a final assault in an attempt to break the encirclement. Before Landriau could launch his charge, the French air force arrived to bomb the rebels gathered around the fortress and the unit was reinforced by the arrival of a first rescue column of the 6th Spahis Regiment and then a second column of the 21st Algerian Gun regiment. More than 400 rebels (and at least 34 wounded) were killed and wounded, as far as the Levant were killed and wounded. Later, Zayd al-Atrash’s forces retreated to the mountains of Anti-Lebanon.
A more well-known episode in Lebanon’s modern history, the citadel of Rachaya was also used as a prison by the decision of Commissioner Jean Helleu, for the Lebanese leaders who had proclaimed Lebanon’s Independence on 11 November 1943.
Among the prisoners interned were MP Béchara el Khoury, who would become the first President of the Lebanese Republic, the President of the Council, Riad el Solh, and the Speaker of the House, Adel Ousseyran, as well as other personalities of the time including Camille Chamoun, Abdel Hamid Karamé and Salim Takla.
These arrests will provoke large demonstrations aimed at securing their release. These demonstrations were successful and France agreed to grant independence to Lebanon on 22 November 1943.