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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Lebanese Traditional Architecture Throughout History (3) | The Architectural Elements Used

This is the third part of an Academic research series about Lebanese Traditional Architecture;

Thus, the information contained in this article is closely related to the previous or next ones, and cannot be separated from each other.

Read more: It is advisable to read it in a sequential manner in order to better understand and assimilate it as required. If you didn't read the previous articles yet:

Thank you and enjoy the reading!

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The most used Lebanese traditional architectural elements are mainly the following:

1. The Walls
2. The Supports (Pillars)
3. The Arches
4. The Doors
5. The Windows
6. The Openings
7. The Triple Arch
8. The Balconies
9. The Apertures (Holes)

There are four main supporting components in Lebanese traditional architecture: the column, the arch, the lintel, and the beam. Each of these elements has its own unique function and helps to create the distinctive and unique style of the Lebanese traditional architecture.

However, the column is perhaps the most important of the four elements. It is responsible for supporting the weight of the structure and helps to create an elegant, lean look. The columns are often decorated with complicated ornaments and are typically made from marble or stone.

The arch is another key element of Lebanese traditional architecture. It is used to support the weight of the roof and helps to give the structure a more open style. Arches are typically made from brick or stone and are often decorated with carvings or mosaics.00al beam that is used to support the roof.

1- The Walls:

Openings in the walls such as windows, doors, and outer balconies’ galleries, are treated as individual elements, but still combined inside units when close to each other. This method halts the tendencies of movement within a facade while preserving its static harmony and elegance.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the western intrusion and foreign influences did introduce the wall partition to Lebanon and brought it to the next level of fine design with a beautiful style.

2- The Supports (Pillars):

traditional architecture,, Lebanese Traditional Architecture, Lebanese old houses
Lebanon is home to a wide variety of architectural styles, but one of the most distinctive is the traditional style. This style is characterized by its use of pillars to support the structure. Pillars are an important part of Lebanese traditional architecture and are often used to decorate the exterior of buildings.

The supports were used for supporting the wooden panels of the roof as well as the vaulted edge dome.

Within the present four walls, there were three additional stone columns, equally integrated inside the wall; Three on the left side and the other three on the right side of the wall. 

The seventh column was the one in the center of the room, supporting the roof and transferring the load to the side columns in the walls through wooden panels.

As for the columns, they were made from one single piece, variable from 15 - 20 cm in diameter. The purpose of having the crown paw is to ensure the smooth transfer from its circular-shaped section along its body to the circular arch shape.

The crown or the head of the column was done with various decorated ornaments that bring elegance and delicacy to the entire element.

They were used a lot within windows but on a smaller scale.

As we can see in the following pictures, the usage of the arched windows along with a couple of small columns distributed either on the sides or in the middle of the window and so named mandaloun improves the whole appearance and the beauty of the elevation. 
This is true art!

3- The Arches:

The various sorts of arches
The arches were constructed from cut stones except for the decorated arches, which benefit from special treatment and decoration, as they bring beauty and richness to the facade of the Lebanese House and the traditional architecture in general. The usage of the arches in the Lebanese traditional architecture constructions is very widespread because of a variety of circumstances.

From climatic to material, there are many reasons that imposed their use; by means of the arch, the house connects to the courtyard (e.g. the Liwan that we talked about in the previous article on this blog) or opens to the gallery and the central hall.

Therefore, and for those reasons, arches defined the look and the appearance of the Lebanese traditional architectureIn the construction of the traditional architecture arches elements, the arches shapes were formed into three main groups:

Genuine, which means following the natural line of the vaulting process, is divided into four types:
  • The Semi-Circular Arch: it appears mainly as a relieving arch above the lintel.
  • The Segmental Arch: used primarily as a relieving arch and over the windows and doors for its beautiful shape. Its form consists of three parameters used together and following a certain proportion. And those are the arc, the chord, and the rise. We recognize arches called a Third, a Quarter, and a Fifth, which refer to the relation of the rise to the chord of 1:3, 1:4, and 1:5, respectively.
  • The Pointed Arch: it was the leader and the dominant of Eastern Arab architecture. Its origin refers to ancient Mesopotamia (in present-day Iraq) and was still in use until the Arabs conquered the Middle East region. The plain one is normally used in vault construction. Its shape consists of two different circle arcs with their center points on the same level. The rise to chord proportion may vary between 1:1.3 and 1:1.4. Other than in vaulting, we can still find the pointing arch above the recessed main entrance door in residences.
  • The Tudor Arch: or the Persian, also called the depressed arch, consists of four arcs. The two outer ones center from the springing line and reside on the same level. The other two, are from two same-leveled centers below the springing line. Surprisingly, it occurs very rarely in Lebanon.

- The Adverse Arches, opposite to the Genuine, don’t keep the natural line in the vaulting construction.

-  The Decorative Arches, deviate directly from the Genuine Arch and follow the natural vaulting line in the construction process.

4- The doors:

In the beginning, the doors had no trace of decoration and arrangement. But after the use of the stone and the development of its polishing, the frame of the door consisted of a stone lintel from above, made from a single piece covering the width of the door, and it is carried by a number of stones from both sides, as shown in the picture below.

The Lebanese Doors Types

The doors were placed inside rectangular boxes decorated with geometric figures, which reflects the Arab influence. The door is composed of one or two parts;
The second part is usually a smaller opening providing security access inside the main door.

5- The Windows:

They were initially rectangular, but after developing the Lebanese architecture its own character and defining its primary basics, the twins or Mandaloun window was born. (See the figures below)

Different types of the Lebanese Twin Window: The famous Mandaloun

It was composed of two arches separated from each other by a small column consisting of a body and a square base and a small decorated crown. As for the brackets embedded from the window top, they were separated from the wall.

Also, we must note the windows with flower beds that give them a beautiful and elegant look reminding them of an element of nature. In the twin windows, there were sometimes triangular arcs with relevant shapes on top. These triangles come within the decorated area or within the arches.

There are also windows with glass on the top; In clear weather, it opens to enlighten and ventilate the room, but in winter and storms, they can be closed. They are in many forms, so they are rounded and surrounded by decoration and paintings. As for the heights, we recognize them from 80-100 cm and from 30-40 cm, and it differs according to the floor level.

Generally, the window is an important element that gives the outer elevation a special impression of what is inside.

6- The Openings:

It is an important element of the facade and its location is carefully studied. It was small, so the majority of the space was taken by the wall. The rectangular mate-polished stone panels surrounding the openings were used as well as a decorative frame in the facade.

Finally, as for the Lebanese traditional architecture, we note the wonderful harmony between the various openings, their number, and the ways used for decorating them in arches, doors, and windows, giving the facade a coordinated and proportional geometric shape.

7- The Triple-Arches:

It was used to build doors, windows, and arches, and it consisted of three arches resting over two central pillars. As for the sides, the arches were based on the walls and over half-columns.

Normally, the three arches were similar to each other, or the middle one was wider a little bit more. Sometimes these arches increased their number to four or five, according to the length of the facade and the type of house.
Often these arches were decorated with stained and frosted glass.

8- The Balconies:

The stone supporters of the balcony consisted of one stone along with the balcony of equal size.
It penetrates the wall by five centimeters and about 100 centimeters appear from the outside, and it is in various forms and decorations, floating on the facade, an impressive geometric shape.

traditional architecture
The Typical Lebanese balconies and balustrades.

As for the width of the balcony, it was only 10 cm thick, surrounded by the handrail or balustrade, which has become an interacting element in Lebanese architecture.

The wrought iron (known as fer-forgé in public, a french word) railings consisted of various artistic geometric shapes, including flowers and plantation patterns.

9- The Holes:

It is a small discharge or hole in the wall with various ornaments and forms and usually has the same arch shapes. It is used to put candles or for decoration and other purposes.

Lebanese Holes over an Arched Gallery

Various Wall Holes Used

The influence of nature over the elements in the Lebanese traditional  architecture

The breeze of Lebanon blowing from the south helped to create a certain level of living and impose certain rules over the Lebanese traditional architecture that had to be followed.

The traditional architecture elements discovered are subject to the directions of the air and the sun.

Interacting with the stone works, which are the main component of traditional Lebanese architecture, and which represent the basic element of the continuity of this architecture, decorates balconies and windows.

This interaction is the stimulator of the relation between the individual and his Creator.

A fact that motivates thinkers and writers to talk about it; in this context, is what Claude Aveline* wrote: "Every Lebanese house that has three arches within its facade represents three planets in God's paradise on Earth."
(*) Claude Aveline, pen name of Evgen Avtsine (19 July 1901 – 4 November 1992), was a writer, publisher, editor, poet and member of the French Resistance. Aveline, who was born in Paris, France, has authored numerous books and writings throughout his writing career. He was known as a versatile author, writing novels, poems, screenplays, plays, articles, sayings, and more. (Wikipedia.org)

Political and religious factors:

Since ancient times, Lebanon was and still is a point of contact between several countries and a station for foreigners; Thus, it seemed normal that it would be influenced by the many civilizations that passed over its territory and left behind castles, fortresses, and palaces belonging to those intruders.

So we find initially, the features of civilization in the Lebanese traditional architecture house, especially in the archways.

Arches for several sources spread all over Lebanon and were in the form of:

- Elongated arch from the top (origin: Morocco)
- The semi-circular from the top or chipped (origin: The Arab Peninsula)
- The elongated semi-circular arch is called the Horseshoe. (Al-Muqarnas, origin: the Arab region)

As we can see here, there were several sources of influence; as the civilization changes, its own culture will invade the whole country and leave its trace everywhere it resides.

At first, the windows were stone or wood, then came the glass windows.
As well the Muqarnas made their appearance in Lebanon, which is an Islamic influence in various regions and were composed of seven elements.

Domes also spread in Lebanon and had several types:
- The Mahdi Dome, or the semi-circular dome.
- The edged arches.
- The ridged vault. The advantages of this dome are that its ribs transfer the outbreaks and pressure toward the pedestals and are stiffer than the Mahdi Dome.

The central courtyard house:

There are many sources and witnesses that attribute this flat to many civilizations, but what we can focus on and recognize is its Phoenician origin.

Usually, in the facade, the windows were located in the middle of the balconies, and according to Scottoline (**), the initial houses built were with pillars made of wood, as the stone pillars weren’t yet known.

(**) Lisa Scottoline (born July 1rst, 1955) is an American author of legal thrillers. (Wikipedia.org)
As for the ceilings, they were made of plaster and straw.

In addition, the central foyer had two rooms located on both sides. The first side was inhabited by the owner or the occupant of the house and the other side was custom reserved for poultry.

In case there was an upper floor, the stairs were located at the back of the house.
The main element of this layout is the corridor or pathway and for the houses with multiple floors, the stairs were usually located at the back of it.


This typical layout is the influence of Roman art, but we can easily find that Roman art was the leader in that kind of plan. The crowds in the city imposed for the usage of this type of house the absence of access doors or openings. Therefore, the doors were opened on the other side.

Later on, and for adding more rooms to the existing ones from both sides, it will make the newly created inner room not enlightened. So having an open central room is necessary for ventilation and light.

Since there are two closed sides, the design of these houses obliged people to enter the central reception hall. Here, the distinction becomes clear between the usage of the various rooms; as the hosting rooms, which are placed next to it, and the working and living rooms are on the other side of it.

From the above, we can conclude the following; The house with a central hall or foyer was cloned from the Liwan, but edited according to the Lebanese conditions and other weather factors, and based on this theory, we can imagine that the opening of the interior foyer was an architectural element resulting from the warmness of the ambient weather of Lebanon during almost the days of the year.


- Architecture in Lebanon by Friedrich Ragette, Published by Caravan Books, New York, 1980

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