Written by Paul Doyle
By 1607, however, Fakhreddine’s progressive expansion of his domain had broadened to include Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, northern Mount Lebanon and the southern port city of Sidon.
The most prominent member of the Maan dynasty, a Druze family who first came to Lebanon in 1120 to assist in ousting the European Crusaders, the emir Fakhreddine II was born in Baakline and is regarded as Lebanon’s first national hero for his direct challenge to Ottoman rule and for his unifying of the Christian and Druze faiths. Fakhreddine ascended to power in 1591 following the murder of his father during the formative years of Ottoman power in Lebanon, which was characterised by a considerable amount of autonomy granted to the often-competing fiefdoms by the Porte in Istanbul. Driven by the twin aims of avenging his father’s death and achieving a free, independent Lebanon, relations between himself and Istanbul were initially cordial with the timely payment of taxes and deference to the Porte’s authority. By 1607, however, Fakhreddine’s progressive expansion of his domain had broadened to include Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, northern Mount Lebanon and the southern port city of Sidon. As an enlightened, visionary and unifying leader, Fakhreddine introduced silk production to the country and encouraged Christian migration to the Chouf from their Mount Lebanon heartlands to engage in its agricultural production. He built the Khan al-Franj or travellers’ inn at Sidon to encourage foreign silk merchant traders and in 1608, entered into a series of alliances with the influential Medici family in Tuscany. Increasingly concerned at Fakhreddine’s attempts to usurp their power, the Ottomans dispatched soldiers to hunt him down and ships to blockade ports to prevent his escape. By 1607, however, Fakhreddine’s progressive expansion of his domain had broadened to include Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, northern Mount Lebanon and the southern port city of Sidon.The resourceful Fakhreddine proved as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel, and with a combination of incentives and cunning, managed to acquire French and Flemish vessels to embark on a two-month voyage from Sidon to Tuscany where he remained for the next five years. During his self-imposed exile in Italy, Fakhreddine observed the economic and cultural mores of post-Renaissance Florence, but upon his return to Lebanon in 1618, timed to coincide with Ottoman preoccupations with their Persian enemy, he found the country a very different animal from the one he had left. Divisions within the Druze community had come to the fore and the Ottomans had reclaimed former territory under his control. Fakhreddine’s resolve strengthened and he built a formidable army which, in 1623, defeated the Turks at the Battle of Aanjar in the Bekaa Valley at which he captured the Governor of Damascus, Mustafa Pasha, whose release was only achieved after Fakhreddine had successfully negotiated the return of his former territories. With the Ottomans having finally defeated the Persians in 1629, the Ottomans focused their attention on ridding themselves of Fakhreddine’s threat to their power. With internal schisms and rivalries rife, and his Druze followers refusing to bear arms against the massed Ottoman forces after a period of hiding, Fakhreddine was finally captured and taken to Istanbul in 1633 where he was executed, along with his three children, in 1635. Following his death, the Maan dynasty was led by his nephew and later by his grandson but, in the absence of a male heir, the family died out, to be succeeded by the Sunni Shihabs. The threat to Ottoman dominance was now over.
The main gate at the Crusader Castle in Sidon, the southern port city which by 1607 Fakhreddine’s progressive expansion of his domain had broadened to include, along with Beirut, the Bekaa Valley and northern Mount Lebanon, Lebanon, Middle East © dinosmichail, Shutterstock