In a castle in the mountains of Lebanon, a wealthy Beirut businessman has created a macabre chamber of waxworks, inspired by his country's tragic past. The collection is disturbing even by the bloody standards of a people well-acquainted with real-life horror. But Samir Baz hopes that it may also encourage understanding and forgiveness
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They're only made of wax, thank God. The eyes are so real, the frozen faces so full of expression, it's no wonder that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, faced with the waxen statue of his murdered father Kamal, walked round and round the figure in a state of near-shock. The dead leader looks pensive, a socialist philosopher in suit and tie - his very own suit and tie, donated by Walid - and towers over you, just as he did in life. What is he thinking of? The Lebanon that crumbled even as he died? The reasons for his own murder? Death is ever present in the atrium of the 17th-century palace of Fakhredin.

For Christian businessman Samir Baz, the waxwork collection he has created at his home at Deir al-Qamar, high in the Chouf mountains of central Lebanon, is merely an expensive history lesson for his countrymen. He opened it this summer, after shipping the figures - there are almost 30 - from France, where they were made. At a personal cost to him of more than pounds 500,000 and an entrance fee for visitors of only pounds 2, his museum might be called eccentric; but there is a reality about the contents of this room, with its arched stained-glass windows and its vaulted stone ceiling, which is chilling: not because the figures are so life-like, but because so many of them killed, or were killed, or witnessed the slaughter of their relations. It may be only a waxworks museum, but it is also a crypt to Lebanon's past horrors.

Kamal Jumblatt, who led the leftist-Palestinian "Joint Forces" at the start of the 1975-90 civil war, stands scarcely three miles from the winding road on which he was shot by unknown gunmen 19 years ago. They drove alongside his limousine as he was travelling home and blew his brains out with an automatic rifle, leaving Kamal slumped over his morning newspaper in the back seat. Across the room stands a far more disturbing man: Michel Aoun, the rebel Christian Maronite general who claimed he was the president of Lebanon in 1988, opened a war of "independence" against the Syrian army which cost 1,000 lives, and then turned against a rival Christian militia, killing hundreds more. Aoun, still alive in Paris, donated his own uniform for his look-alike and - proving that vanity, at least, does not die in exile - telephoned a message for the palace visitor's book which compares his own banishment to that of the Emir Fakhredin the Great. Neither, it seems, ever stopped loving his country. The 17th-century Emir is sometimes called the father of modern Lebanon, a prince who mutinied against Ottoman rule after uniting the clans of the Lebanese mountains on his side. Aoun, of course, sees the Syrians as "his" Ottomans.

There are less bloody characters beneath the arches. The distinctly odd English traveller Lady Hester Stanhope, grandaughter of Pitt the Elder, who wandered Egypt and the Holy Land and retired to the Lebanese mountains to meddle in local politics, sits with an irritating smile on her face. Not far from her is Alphonse de Lamartine, the 19th-century French writer who recommended Palestine as a future colonial project and carved his name on a 2,000-year-old cedar of Lebanon.

But it is difficult to shake off the smell of blood. The one-armed French General Henri Gouraud, who chopped off Lebanon from Syria after World War I and gave it to the Maronites - arguably the cause of all its recent wars - stands stiffly to attention in dress uniform. Not far from him is Pierre Gemayel, the Christian warlord whose son Bashir - one of the most savage of militia leaders - was blown up by a bomb in 1982; his death in turn led to the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Chatila. And, at the back of the atrium, there stand three men and their murderer, alongside a priest, all in early-19th-century dress. Emir Bashir II has invited local tribal leaders Abdul-Ahad Baz, Gerious Baz and Bashir Jumblatt to swear eternal fidelity among each other before God. They are holding out their hands above a Bible and a Koran. The date is 15 May 1807. That same day, the Emir's men murdered the Baz brothers; they cut down Bashir Jumblatt 10 years later. The brothers were ancestors of Samir Baz. Bashir Jumblatt was Kamal Jumblatt's great-grandfather.

Even the palace itself stands in a town whose name is synonymous with violence. In 1983, Druze forces surrounded Deir al-Qamar and shelled it mercilessly until its Christian militia defenders agreed to leave. Walid Jumblatt lifted the seige as a "Christmas gesture".

"When I was at school, I was taught English history and French history and I had to wait for my father to teach me Lebanese history," says Samir Baz, whose bedroom in the palace is scarcely 40ft from his waxworks. "So this place is a history lesson for my people. I say: `Here are no politics - here is only a museum.' "

Whether the Lebanese will learn from their history is, of course, another matter. !

Heroes and villains (mostly villains)... Top, from left: Father Mattr Hakim, a Christian priest who created a free school for both Christians and Druze in the Chouf mountains in the 19th century; Kamal Jumblatt, father of the current Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, assassinated in 1977; Michel Aoun, the rebel Christian Maronite general (now living in exile in Paris) who claimed to be president of Lebanon in 1988. Above, from left: Alphonse de Lamartine, the 19th-century French writer and traveller who first identified Palestine as a promising potential colony; and (from left) Abdul-Ahad Baz, Emir Bashir II, Patriarch Tyran, Gerious Baz and Bashir Jumblatt on the occasion in 1807 when they swore eternal fidelity to one another, at the Emir's invitation; the Baz brothers and Jumblatt were subsequently murdered on the Emir's instructions, two of them that same day