Heritage – The Italian Job… Shamaa Citadel still awaits in ruins

(The Daily Star, December 27, 2010)

Despite having secured an Italian grant several years ago, the south’s ancient citadel of Chamaa is desperately awaiting delayed refurbishment works, amid concerns that its archeological remains will collapse with time.

Officials fear that the remains of the structure, which was heavily bombarded during Israel’s 2006 summer war against Lebanon, will continue to fall every winter, making renovation much more difficult and costly.

Overlooking the city of Tyre and Israel’s coastal area, the ancient citadel is located on a hill in the southern village of Chamaa.

Chamaa’s mayor, Abdel-Qader Safieddine, told The Daily Star that the remains of the fortress might completely collapse if renovation does not commence as soon as possible.

“The Italian government granted during the Stockholm conference 770,000 Euros (around $1 million) to renovate the citadel, many sections of which were destroyed by Israeli war planes,” he said.

In September 2006, Sweden hosted a conference for international donors in Stockholm in the wake of Israel’s destructive war to help in reconstruction efforts.

“Despite the fact that several years have passed and that the fund was received by the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), works haven’t kicked off yet,” he added.

Safieddine said that the Italian grant would no longer be enough if parts of the citadel continue to fall every winter.

He lashed out at the CDR, labeling it as a council for “burying” projects.

“It seems it [CDR] is waiting for a contractor that suits its interests before rehabilitating the castle that rivals all castles in Lebanon,” Safieddine said.

Ali Badawi, from the Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) and the person responsible for archeological sites in the south, told The Daily Star the CDR was training people to put forward a strategic study on renovating the citadel.

“Then, planned works will be given to a contractor. They include lifting scattered stones and numbering them along with rebuilding the main walls and halls that were devastated during [Israel’s] July war,” he said, adding that the funding of refurbishments had been provided by the Italian government based on a comprehensive file that was prepared by the Culture Ministry and the DGA.

“The castle is in need of enormous efforts and funds to preserve its archeological and historical value,” he stressed.

Chamaa’s citadel is a unique structure given its strategic location, large halls and fortifications.

The citadel and the village were named after prophet Chamma, or “Nabi Chamma,” whose memorial is located in the castle’s court. Thousands of pilgrims visit the memorial, which was renovated by Qatar following Israel’s 2006 summer war, every year.

Chamaa’s castle dates back to the 12th century. The citadel was built by the Crusaders on a location that overlooks the road to Jerusalem. It was captured by the Mamluks in the 13th century, when it soon lost its strategic importance.

In the 18th century, the structure became the property of the Saghir family that ruled south Lebanon at the time. During this period, the citadel underwent extensive renovation and was used for military and residential purposes.

The citadel’s strategic location had been the main reason behind Israel’s decision to turn it into a military headquarters in March of 1978, during Israel’s first invasion of south Lebanon.

The Israeli forces ruined the site and removed its main gate in 1990 to facilitate the entry of military vehicles. The structure fell under the control of the DGA following Israel’s withdrawal from most of the south in 2000.

In the 2006 war, Israeli forces destroyed major parts of the citadel, including its main tower, along with fences surrounding it to the north.