The people of Zgharta call him the “Hero of Lebanon” and they stand in respect whenever they pass by his house. The legacy of Youssef Beik Karam is still holding strong in his palace in the quirky corners of the North Governate town of Lebanon.
One look at Youssef Beik Karam’s grand, where all the secret meetings and endeavors took place, is enough to know that a battle was kindled in the room by an outside force. The black heavy smoke ignited by fire is still visible on the walls of the room as a way of documenting history.
Youssef Beik Karam was born in 1823 in the mountain town of Ehden, and was raised by an elite family of Lebanese Ehden feudalities. In 1845, the young man of barely 23 years encountered an incident that showed magnanimity, courage, and bravery.
When the army of the Ottoman Empire launched their way to disarm by force the Lebanese Northerners of any weapon they own, Karam confronted the ruling forces and refused to let the army enter the Northern territory.
His brave act was met with a great support of the people in the area and, hand in hand, they were able to defeat the army and confiscate their weapons and ammunition. Due to the heavy fights that occurred during the battle, Ottomans broke into Karam’s house and set fire to the entrance.
When the empire heard of the defeat of its army on the hands of a 23 years old warrior, the state put out a bounty money reward on Karam, to be caught dead or alive, and hand him over to the empire. To avoid a strife between his own people, Karam went to the Ottoman’s leader office in Tripoli himself.
When asked why he gave in on his own, Karam answered, “I learned that the army will come to us and disarm my people by force and that it will destroy my country, just like it destroyed so many countries before us where the army attacked the people and brutally treated them, then went around insulting the priests and churches.”
“My love for my country and my love for my people and my reluctance to injustice and cruelty led me to come here today,” Karam said to the Ottoman leader who felt so impressed by Karam’s bravery that he decided to forgive and set him free.
Youssef Beik Karam was later on exiled to Napoli where he died in 1889. He left behind in his hometown a vintage palace with thousands of patriotic stories.
This old-style palace was architected the same way as palaces of the feudal royalties and sheikhs of Lebanon. It is composed of two floors: the ground floor comprises several cellars and an internal stone stairway from which it ascends to the upper floor. This floor was made for servants and guards and, occasionally, a place to tie horses in.
Next to the entrance door, which is located under a stone bowl, there are two stone seats for the guards to sit on. On this floor, there is the kitchen, the pantry, a large horse stable, and a spacious cellar for the servants and guards.
The other two floors had a superior dining room, as well as bedrooms, living rooms, and a salon. The palace is still furnished the same way as it was when Karam left; leaving behind his collection of cameras (the first camera created), his sister’s luxurious dresses, and his traditional Lebanese tarboosh.
The palace of that Lebanese hero is an architectural gem in the heart of Zgharta. A museum of culture, determination, and brave disobedience against oppression.
Youssef Beik Karam remains to date an inspiration of patriotic bravery and resistance. His body was mummified and put on display in the Maronite Church of Mar Gerges in Ehden.