“no other explanation”
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 27, 2008
When H and I entered Beiteddine’s interior courtyard, we found a mid-40s man assembling what tourists there were for a look into its reception halls. Since Lebanon’s independence, the living quarters of Beiteddine have been used as the president’s summer residence (yes, I know, I’m thinking the same thing: better hurry up and elect someone if the residence isn’t to sit empty all summer!), so the rooms are otherwise off-limits.
The reception halls were beautiful, with interiors that ranged from late 18th-century lacquered wood inlays with roses and other flora painted on them (as well as several rather primitive buildings), to an elaborate 1908 (? maybe 1904 – I can’t remember) extravaganza of mosaic, painting and stained glass windows.
(I don’t have any photos of these rooms, sorry – we weren’t encouraged to take photographs.)
The ceiling of one of the smaller halls in particular caught our eye. It was decorated with a series of six-pointed stars, large and small, and the theme was carried over into the wall panels as well. It even carried through to the hall’s more contemporary wooden doors, which I felt were fair game for a photo since they were 1) not antique and 2) technically in the courtyard:
We’ve been interested in the evolution of the six-pointed star from Muslim world decoration to Star of David – it seems to have been a “neutral” decoration here for much much longer than in Europe. Two older buildings in my neighborhood – late Ottoman or at best early Mandate period – have six-pointed star windows, but we don’t think that they were Jewish-owned buildings.
Ask him, I whispered to H as our guide motioned us towards another building. The man had kindly decided to overlook my obvious foreignness and speak to us both in Arabic, but I didn’t want to push my luck by actually asking him a question. Instead, I whispered commentary to H and he patiently passed my questions on.
But since the six pointed stars interest H too, he didn’t need my encouragement.
We’ve noticed that this room has a particular star decoration, H said diplomatically. Is there any reason for this?
The guide smiled kindly. Evidently he has heard this question before. Its a design for decoration, he said. Ma fi tafsir tani – there is no other explanation.
What I didn’t see in these halls was any prevalence of the five-pointed star that I associate with the Druze, although the late 20th century eternal flame sculpture in the main courtyard does have a five-pointed star as its base. I don’t know the history of that star, or when it became associated with the Druze. Perhaps it too is a 20th-century phenomenon.