Located on a coastal hill in the northern district of Batroun, Smar Jbeil is one of the oldest villages in Lebanon, and was a Maronite refuge during the Middle Ages. The village is known for the Church of Saint Nohra, and a castle of Phoenician origin, around which summer festivals are hosted annually.
The Castle of Smar Jbeil
Of Phoenician origin, the castle was built in the center of the village on a strategic hill overlooking the coast from Byblos to Tripoli on one side, and the mountains of Bcharre on the other.
The castle changed hands variously—Persians controlled it in 555 BC, and Alexander the Great took it some 200 years later, evidenced in part by Roman statues and the addition of a theater.
The Maronites later sheltered here, and for a time the castle served as the See of the first Maronite Catholic Patriarch, Saint John Maron. A massive earthquake damaged the complex extensively in the 17th century, knocking down the towers that looked out across the coast and back to the mountains, and the Crusaders knocked down much of the ruins and rebuilt the structure much as it is today, and the view from the site remains as impressive and commanding as ever.
The castle has many wells built in the rocks, and many tunnels connecting it to neighboring valleys. Some of the tomb stones in the ancient cemeteries of Smar Jbeil are also interesting for their Greek inscriptions.
Church of Saint Nohra
The old church of Saint Bassil and Nohra stands in the center of the village. Built on the ruins of a Roman temple, the church was renovated first by the Crusaders and later by the Maronites. Saint Nohra was a priest from Egypt who went to Batroun to preach but he was captured by the city’s king and killed and is said to have been buried in one of the wells of Smar Jbeil Castle. The well has since become a shrine.
Close to Saint Nohra, an even older little ruined chapel with a single nave, called Our Lady of Gifts church, can be seen, and a bit further is the Saint Takla Church which is smaller and also very old.