1st Printing Press in the Middle East

The Printing press of Saint Antonius in “Quzhayya” is the first printing press in the Middle East. It is located in a monastery in the Valley of the Saints in the mountains of the north Kaza of Lebanon. According to historians, a movable type printing press was imported from England to the Saint Antonius Monastery in 1585. The first publication was the book of “Mazameer” dated from 1610, and now present in the University of the Holy Ghost in Kaslik, Jouniyé, Lebanon.



Saint Antonius press did not print with Arabic letters but with Syriac letters. Back then Lebanon was still under the Turkish occupation, and at the time, the Arabic script was considered sacred, only to be written by hand not to be reproduced in the printing press.


Christian monks tricked the Turkish government and printed Arabic Christian religious books (like The Book Of The Mass, The Book Of The Apostils and several others) using the Syriac letters. The word “karshouné” was given to this kind of printing when the Syriac letters were used to write Arabic text. Nowadays we still use the word ”karshouné” only to signify that a person is talking nonsense or that he is not being clear in his/her pronunciation.




The press was renewed in the beginnings of the 19th century and a special place called “al ma3rama” was reserved for it in the monastery. In the year 1854 the work of the press was stopped due to the situation back then, to be renewed again in 1871 and then to stop completely in the beginning of the Second World War.


Nowadays the printing press in Saint Antonius monastery is not as well preserved as the printing press of “Al Zakher” in “Khinshara”. There are only the English printing press displayed, some books around it, a few Syriac metal letters typeset in a matrix, and some printing tools that were used in the press.


Keep note that Saint Antonius Press in Quzhayya is the first printing press in the Middle East (using Syriac letters), while the printing press of “Al Zakher” in “Khinshara” was one of the first Arabic printing presses in the Middle East after the Arabic printing presses in Turkey and Syria that preceded it a few years earlier.






39 Comments

  1. Karshouni existed before the 16th century amongst Syriac Christians who had adopted the Arabic language but continued to use the Syriac alphabet. This was done for reasons of preserving identity though the Arabic alphabet was used as well.

    The same practise continued into the 20th century. There are similar examples with other languages in the ‘wrong’ alphabet, not just Syriac.

    It’s a beautifully printed book.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing these informative and beautiful images and history. I found your blog through Creative Roots and am so pleased I did. I hope you won’t mind, but I used one of your images (with credits and links) on my blog mentioning that this was a great post. I look forward to reading more from you.

  3. nice blog
    impressive photos!
    I’ve been to Quzhayya many times but I never got the info mentioned here!

  4. Hey, i just passed there last weekend !!!
    sadly they didn’t let us in because it was off visiting hours .. !!
    From this post i can see that ive missed a lot …

    cheers

  5. Is it just me or is it quite difficult to read (to the contemporary eye I mean)?

    It looks also that the characters have been built using composite shapes – i.e. one matrix used as a composite for several characters? Am I right in this thinking?

    Superb, in-depth and insighful as always akhe, appreciate the generosity of your knowledge and discovery with us all.

    Wishing you the very best

    Ma’salaam

  6. Hey very nice article. I would like to know more about the printing press, notably the context in which it was brought to the Middle East, and the effect it had on the spreading of culture. Basically, anything that mentions the upcoming of printing press in the Middle East.

    Do you know any book/website/anything where I could find more information?

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