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Photo of the Week: Traditional Soap Making, Tripoli, Lebanon

  • Ronald Sayegh
  • 17 October 2010

IN NOVEMBER 2010, THIS IMAGE EARNED SPECIAL MENTION FROM OUR JUDGES WHEN SELECTING THE WHL GROUP PHOTO OF THE YEAR.

This photo shows the soap-making process in Tripoli, in the North of Lebanon. Traditional soap is made from oil, which is itself produced from locally harvested olives. The olive oil must be boiled for six hours in large cauldrons, while being constantly stirred to ensure a smooth consistency. Other ingredients are then added and heated briefly to achieve a creamy paste. The artisan then adds the perfumes and puts in the chosen colouring. Each soap reflects a theme: black, blue and white for winter, whereas spring is announced with a mix of pink, yellow and green.

Photo of the week (17 October 2010) - Traditional Soap Making, Tripoli, Lebanon

The molten soap is then left to congeal overnight before being sliced into blocks or shaped into balls, which are finally aired for about a month. A final buffing gives the soap additional shine.

Soap-making has played a major role in Tripoli’s history and has long been regarded as a key part of its identity. There are several prominent factories that operate throughout the city, and a whole market (or souk) is dedicated to the buying and selling of soap. Soap is an important component in the hammam, or public baths, which are themselves a major institution in Lebanese society.

There is a museum in the southern city of Sidon that is completely dedicated to explaining the significance of artisanship when it comes to Lebanese soap and to the history of its production.

This post was updated on 15 November 2010 to amend an error. Tripoli is, of course, not the capital of Lebanon. Apologies for any confusion caused.

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Asia, handicrafts & shopping, human interests, Lebanon, local knowledge, markets, photo of the week, Western Asia, women,

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