ENFEH: the Robber Barons' Nephin
From Bruce Condé, See Lebanon, pp. 512-521, second edition, Harb Bijjani Press, Beirut, 1960

The tremendous rock-cut moat of Enfe, with its single spur to hold the drawbridge, virtually makes an island of the castle peninsula (to right) and la aspectacular feat of medieval engineering.

Not long after leaving the Shakka cement works after descending from the Ras Shakka tunnel on the road to Tripoli, some 81 kilometers out of Beirut, a long rocky peninsula juts out into the sea from the little town of Enfe.

This barren point, today the abode of goats - where not utilized for salt pans - was once a mighty fortress area, the Crusader castle of Nephin, fief of the Counts of Tripoli.

The Crusader Lords of Nephin, triply safe behind the walls of Enfe, the vast rock-cut moat which severed the peninsula from the town, and the sea-swept battlements of their citadel, soon established a reputation as robber barons, the terror of travellers between Jerusalem and Tripoli.

The town itself had a better reputation, for its wines were known and prized far and wide throughout the Latin kingdom in the 12th and 13th Centuries.

Black Deeds

Rather than chastise his unruly vassals in Enfe, the sovereign Count of Tripoli used to buy their loyalty and services through a laissez faire policy, so that the unsavory deeds of the Seigneur de Nephin came to be linked with the fortunes of Tripoli's ruling dynasty, the princely House of Antioch, in the 13th Century.

Perhaps the blackest deed ever perpetrated at Nephin took place in 1282 during one of the suicidal civil wars which so weakened the Crusaders as to make them an easy prey for the Mamluk sultans of Egypt.

Guy II d'Ibelin, 8th Lord of Gibelet (Byblos), last of the House of Embriaci to hold Jebail in fief from the County of Tripoli, had attacked his suzerain and cousin, Count Bohemond WI, in conjunction with one of the great Crusading orders, in order to overthrow the House of Antioch and constitute himself sovereign of Tripoli.

Bohemond, in violation of the capitulation agreement, sent Guy, surrendered on terms which fixed his punishment at a limited period of imprisonment.

Buried Alive

Behemond, in violation of the capitulation agreement, sent Guy, his brothers Jean and Baudoin and their cousin Guillaume di Embriaco, to Enfe, with secret sealed orders instructing the Lord of Nephin to see to it that they died in prison.

Perhaps over-zealous to execute his master's implied wish, the robber baron of Enfe gleefully threw the luckless nobles into a small cell in the dungeon and sealed it up with masonry, allowing the Embriaci to starve to death.

In revenge, Guillaume's brother, Bartholomew, on Bohemond VII's death five years later, organized a revolution in Tripoli, dethroned the Countess Lucia, Bohemond's daughter, in absentia (she had married an Italian admiral and was in Europe at the time) and proclaimed Tripoli a republic or commune, with himself as Captain-General.

Fall of Tripoli

While Lucia, her husband, the Templars, Hospitallers, Gcnoese, Pisans, Venetians and the commune were engaged in suicidal dissentions two years later (1289), Sultan Qalawun suddenly attacked, captured and destroyed Tripoli. Those of Lucia's knights who escaped from the burning city to the two remaining coastal castles of Batroun and Nephin were unable to withstand the full fury of the Mamluk army and beat a further retreat to the island kingdom of Cyprus.

Sultan Qalawun destroyed both castles so thoroughly that even the site of Batroun's citadel is lost from history.

With Nephin it was a different story, for here the Crusaders had performed one of the great engineering feats of the middle ages. They had cut off the peninsular fortress from Enfe proper by cutting a great moat, at sea level, all the way across the peninsula, for over 100 yards, through the living rock, leaving only a small spur in the center at the south end to support the castle's drawbridge.

Vast Rock Cuttings

Another cut further protected the keep, a little to the west. The keep itself was also partly carved from living rock. These mammoth rock carvings remain today in virtually their original state and make a visit to Enfe well worth while.

A single fragment of rubble masonry wall near the end of the peninsula, overlooking the long ramp cut in the living rock, down which the knights of Nephin escaped onto their ships in 1289, abandoning this fortress in the middle of the night, is all that remains standing today. Some bossed stones, foundation or retaining walls, and some great blocks of stone blending into the sides of the moat are also to be seen at the north end of the cut, as are a few excavated cisterns.

The interesting steps, niches, tanks, tombs, cave and other rock carvings on the town side of the cut are now considered to be almost entirely of pre-Crusader Ph¾nieian and Greco-Roman origin, as Nephin is an extremely ancient inhabited place whose early origin is lost in antiquity. These will be discussed in connection with other pre-Crusader ruins of Enfe in the second part of this article.

Enfe's Crusader church façade still looks down on the peninsula of the vanished castle, from the edge of the village nearby.

Crusader Churches

But the town itself is not entirely lacking in relics of the Crusades, for near the waterfront are two old churches, one in current use, the other a picturesque ruin.

The one in use is undoubtedly the Seigneur de Nephin's Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a crudely-executed single-nave-and-apse affair but in pure Crusader style throughout. The smaller, ruinous one, which certainly served during the Crusades, seems to be of

Byzantine origin and still conserves wall paintings of that style. Enfe is a Greek Orthodox village today and all of its churches follow that rite.

No description of Nephin in its present state would be complete without reference to the salt pans.

These shallow receptacles are found all along the village water front and have now invaded the castle peninsula across the cut.

Salt Making

As in Batroun, salt-making from sun-evaporated sea water is a major local industry. Some of the salt pans are very old, cut from the basic limestone but by far the greater number are now constructed of smooth cement and served by wind-operated pumping systems.

* * *

Pre-Crusader Enfe

Early travellers, gazing in admiration at the Crusaders' main rock-cut moat of Enfe, were also prone to attribute to the Knights of the Cross all other rock cuttings on the Cape of Enfe.

Ernest Renan, in 1860-61 and subsequent archaeologists, however, have tended to separate the two Crusader moats, rock-cut keep and long ramp from all others of the hundreds of interesting works at Enfe.

But to whom did these other rock cuttings belong? Certainly to Phœnician settlers of GrecoRoman days and earlier, although history maintains a stubborn blackout concerning what must have been a very important and extensive settlement of ancient times at Enfe.

Above the center of this ruinous old building, which hides Mar Yuhanna's chapel façade, rises the enigmatic rock-cutting of an earlier civilization. Sacred cave is beneath rock-cutting between the two broken arches in center of photo.

Full-day Excursion

It takes a full day, with picnic lunch, to see all of Enfe. Crusader and earlier, properly.

Stopping at the last service station on the right after going through the town proper, the nearest group of rock cuttings in the cliffs just acrossthe railroad, to the east, may be visited.

These consist largely in the typical small tombs of Enfe, with square portal, usually inaccessible from the ground level. On top of the cliff is a small modern shrine, marking the spot of the now-vanished chapel of St. Anthony.

The rock-cut foundations, niches, industrial (oil and wine press) cuttings continue from this point to the south-southeast to one of the most curious of all the structures of Enfe - the Church of Mar Yuhanna and its compound.

At first glance there is nothing interesting about this structure, with a modern square, flatroofed house at the north and a ruinous old building in the center, and the severely-plain modern church proper, also flat-roofed, at the south. It is situated in a basin formed by an old quarry and not readily visible from the highway side.

Rock Cuttings Protrude

The only unusual feature seems to be a complex of chimney like rock cuttings protruding from the roof of the ruinous old building at the point where it joins the modern church.

The old building may have been a khan, rather than an earlier church, for its orientation is north-south, in spite of a large partly rock-cut niche at the end of its 30 feet-long hall with barrel vaulted roof and eight large arched alcoves, or niches, of crude masonry along the east side. It could be partly medieval and partly of the Turkish period. A room to the south of the long hall halds the usual bottle-shaped Byzontine cistern so common in Lebanon, but the mystery begins just south of this, in the last room of the building.

Here the southwest corner of the little six-foot-square room is entirety rock cut, with some steps and a niche cut into the wall. To the right, a gloomy, unlighted chamber is entered through a small door with inverted "V" shaped lintel. When one's eyes become accustomed to the gloom, or with the aid of a candle or flashlight, it is at once apparent that this is all that remains of a sacred cave, directly beneath the chimney-like rock cuttings which emerge above the building.

The Sacred Cave

To the left is a shelf and very large and wide altar niche, oriented east as though the cave had been converted into a chapel. On the right (west) side is a rock-cut door, now walled-up, about a yard wide. This chamber is roughly triangular-shaped, ten or twelve feet on each side, terminating on the south end with a passage that ends flush against the northwest corner of the modern church.

Enfe's Mar Yuhanna Church is built below and around this strange rock cutting, which may be an altar above the still-preserved sacred cave of some ancient people, converted in Byzantine times to Christian use with additional niches cut at that time.

The chimney-like rock mass above the cave has a central projection approached by step-like cuttings suggestive of a primitive altar, while square and arched niches (visible in the photo) have been cut into the northeast side, above the niche in the southernmost room of the old building mentioned above.

Is this truly a sacred cave of the old Phœnicians, with altar above, modified in Byzantine times into a small rock-cut chapel and then built into the center of newer structures? The continued sacredness of the spot, with modern Mar Yuhanna as the latest successive house of worship here, suggests that this may be one of the most curious of such survivals in Lebanon. The "new" church (actually of the Turkish period) contains no stonework of interest, but its Byzantine-style altar screen has a few nice ikons.

Neba al-Ghrir

South from Mar Yuhanna as far as the ancient and copious spring of Neba al-Ghrir, (its icecold waters now protected by a well house and extracted by hand pump), for a distance of about one kilometer, the tombs, dwelling caves (one of them being extremely large and spacious, approached by rock-cut steps and ramps), industrial cutcings and ancient stone roadways dot the countryside, with here and there a sunken vineyard, reminiscent of the days when Crusader Nephin produced the best wines of this country.

Returning to the town proper, across the railway tracks and highway to the west, and passing by the medieval churches facing the sea, the second groups of rock cuttings - perhaps the most extensive in all Lebanon - is reached.

Virtually the whole peninsula and cape of Enfe is covered with an intricate series of steps, niches, tombs, industrial works, tanks, cisterns, passageways, basins, and foundations of ancient rooms, cut from the native grey limestone.

The Ancient Ramp

An interesting stone ramp, (illustrated) leads into the center of this complex from the sea. Its sides are curved back at the ends, which are about eight yards wide, with the center of the ramp five yards wide and the average cut five feet deep. At the sea end are "handles" or rings cut in the living rock for ropes or chains. As Enfe fishermen still use this for their boats, as did the Crusader townspeople, who did not have access to the vast castle ramp at the northeast end of the peninsula, this has probably been in continuous use for over 3,000 years.

Enfe's rock-cut boat ramp, in the midst of hundreds of stone cuttings of ancient peoples, is still used by local fishermen and has probably been in continuous use for some 3,000 years and more

The wine-manufacturing Crusaders also no doubt used the ancient wine presses here. These are square platforms, draining into tanks at the lower end. At the upper end is a hole in the end wall, about 3 or 4 inches above the platform, into which was fitted a beam which was pressed and weighted down on top of a wooden covering which smashed the piles of grapes on the platform, causing the juice to flow into the tanks.

From steps going up from the ramp there is a 12-foot-wide corridor or passageway, some 30 feet long and 12 deep, leading to the other (south) side of the peninsula. To the west of this passage are some obviously ancient shaft tombs. One of these, about 12 feet deep is some five feet square at the top and seven or eight at the bottom, its sides uniformly sloping outward from the top.

Enfe Notable

AUB's popular Dr. Zenken Shakhashiri is one of the leading citizens of Enfe today, and so attached is he to the old Crusader town, that he commutes as often as possible on week ends between Beirut and the Seigneur de Nephin's former domain.

Robin Fedden, in his "Crusader Castles" express greater nostalgia over Enfe's silent peninsula than for any other Crusader castle site in the Near East.

Enfe has a special charm that is difficult to define.



Last modified: Wed Dec 29 13:08:22 2010