The First Printing Press of the Middle East
Posted On March 24, 2017
As you travel to the northern part of Lebanon, you’ll come across the Quzhaya Area in Zgharta. We heard that an amazing achievement for the Middle East lies within this village, and it was about time we got to the bottom of it. This lead us to discover the 700 year old printing press in the Monastery of Saint Anthony with its beautifully printed letters and vintage books that can be taken as a form of art.
The Monastery of Saint Anthony – Quzhaya, lebanon
Our tale travels all the way back to 1585 within the Maronite Church where the monks needed a method to supply themselves with books. This was where a printing press was brought to the region from England during the time of Patriarch Sergius Ar-Rezzi. The monks always had a strong passion for the art of literature and held schools to pass on their wisdom. To continue the teachings of the church, the press was a great milestone for the country and church in many more than one.
In 1610, it was first used to print the legendary title “Mazameer” that you can now find in the University of the Holy Ghost in Jounieh. For the first few decades, the monks would only use the press to print books in Syriac letters, which is an alphabet that closely resembles Arabic and Phoenician characters. They made sure to print them in the Arabic language with Syriac letters so that the students of the church would be able to understand the books perfectly. Books such as the Mass Book, the Book of the Epistles, the Breviary and the Martyrology were all printed using this press in Syriac.
During those times, the monks had quite a few hardships within the church, which caused the press to stop all its production because of a few faulty pieces and lack of maintenance. The Lebanese Maronite Order had called for help to renovate the printing press in the 19th century. To keep it under proper care, they reserved a special place known as “Al Maarama” and stored it within the monastery. Jumping forward to 1860, a war had struck the country which caused the monks to leave the church and abandon the press.
It was a very complicated piece of machinery which needed constant cleaning and care. Once they returned to the church, they noticed it would not print again. In 1871, they had managed to bring it back to life to continue printing manuscripts and religious textbooks for their students. Once the wave of the Second World War started, the press had seen the last of its days and was abandoned completely.
Seeing great potential as a touristic attraction, the press was always kept clean and stored in the monastery for anyone to visit. Taking the tour up to the church, you would see the room, where it is kept, lined with many English books that had been printed along with some Syriac metal letters. To add to the entire experience of the press, you could even learn of the many different types of printing tools that were used to create such beautiful and artistic literary pieces.
On an interesting note, the name of the area “Quzhaya” is actually a word in Syriac. It has a beautiful meaning behind it which translates to “the treasure of life”. If you ever took the drive towards this district, you would know just how perfect the name of it really is. With a beautiful landscape and tons of green hills and valleys, Quzhaya was a magnificent stepping point for Lebanon in spreading the first alphabet and in printing the first Syriac/Arabic book in the Middle East. You can’t deny that it is a great feeling to be standing in the presence of something that is marked down in history books.
Quzhaya is 86 kilometers from Beirut, so we’ll leave you with a beautiful sight of the monastery that will surely give you the urge to travel up to the north.