First Arabic Printing Press in Lebanon

View from the monastery
Up, up, up high in the mountains of Khenchara, you can find the very first Arabic script print house in Lebanon.  Since I’m not very familiar with the directions there [I thought we were going off somewhere near Tripoli and I was disappointed when I learned we weren’t getting halawet-el-jeben], according to Wiki, it’s located between Bologna, Bteghrine  and Dhour El Choueir. The village is 30 kilometres (18.6 mi) north east of Beirut.

Inside one of the churches (St. Nicolas I think) 
The press is located at Deir Mar 7ohanna, St. John’s Monastery, which dates back to the 12th century. The first printed book was Mizan al Zaman (The Balance of Time) in 1734. Founder of the press, Abdallah el-Zakher from Aleppo, Syria, built the oldest machine between 1726 and 1733. 

Our guide was Brother Theodore, a slightly intense religious man who explained the history of the churches and the printing process which sometimes took 6-8 years per book. One of the things he said that stuck with me was his analogy of love and a knife. He said that, love is like a knife that can stab you in the heart or cut you open to remove your appendix; it can wound you or it can heal you. He is a bit enthusiastic about faith so if you have an allergy towards religion or are sensitive to such things, be prepared. 

Engraved decorative elements


Arranging the letters for words

Galley used to set up the page


Used to make the space between the lines of text


 The type would be set letter by letter, line by line and placed into a plate. The plate would then be put into the printing mechanism where ink would be added and impressed onto the paper when pressure was applied. The ink was made from ground up walnut branches and the paper used was 100% organic making the books completely natural products. This could explain why the books are still in incredible condition.

The first printing press machine
The larger printing press

Once the pages were printed, they were dried using an accordion fan similar to the ones used to keep the chimney fire going (bellow blower). The books were stitched and bound with leather then placed between wooden planks to keep shape. 


Books placed between planks

Tools for leather binding

Woodcuts of sacred scenes

Brass scene
Commemorative plaque for Abdallah el Zakher

The way that el Zakher made sure to keep the correct order of pages was pretty impressive: instead of using page numbers and getting lost, they would print the last word of the script at the bottom of the page outside the framed text. This last word would be the first word of the next page and those words would never be found twice so there would be no confusion. That’s pretty difficult when you think about it. The Arabic script used is based on el Zakher’s own writing and it is said that you cannot tell the difference between his actual handwritten pages and those that were produced by the press. 

Notice the last word outside the frame on the bottom left of the right page is the first word on the next page

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