Saturday, October 1, 2011
Olive oil soap, the traditional soap of Lebanon, is gaining worldwide popularity for its purity and natural moisturizing qualities. Traditionally made with oil originating from each family's own olive trees, the soap is imprinted with the family name in Arabic or with other symbols, suggesting the quality of the olive oil used, the soap maker's skill, or secret recipe. The areas of Lebanon famous for olive oil soap production include Koura, Hasbaiya, Saida, and the Chouf. However, olive oil soap can be purchased in small stores or souks all over the country.
According to Lebanese tradition, olive oil soap is a cure-all for countless ailments, from balding, to dandruff, to eczema.
A specialty Lebanese soap is produced in Tripoli, typically made from a mixture of vegetable oils, using methods inspired by the North Middle Eastern soap-making tradition. The Tripoli soap workshops are also widely known for their massage and spa oils used in the old Turkish-style hammams.
Salt harvesting from the Mediterranean Sea is an ancient tradition in many coastal Lebanese cities. Among them, none is better known than then North Lebanon village of Enfé as a historical and current site for salt production. The highest quality salt, fleur du sel, is produced seasonally - it is a rare product of limited quantity that is highly recommended for cooking. Lebanese sea salt is also used in the bath for its benefits to the skin and body. Salts are often scented with special oils for use in spa treatments or in fragrance sachets for use in wardrobes and closets.
A good representative of Lebanon's pottery heritage can be found in Assia. The beauty of Assia's trademark hand-molded bowl lies in its humility, simplicity, and connection to village traditions. Each bowl is molded to perfection over many days and baked in small, backyard wood ovens. The only glaze used is olive oil, applied when a bowl is used for cooking. The bowls are perfect for grilling cheese, frying eggs, or serving other sizzling foods, and they are widely used in Lebanese homes.
Unique pottery can also be found in Rachaiya El-Foukhar, a Southern village widely known among traders through the millennia for its fine pottery. Its most representative object is the traditional water jar, or Ibrik, also known in Spain as the "Phoenician wine jar." The jar's typical features include natural baked colors and traditional spiral designs that symbolize holy water and good fortunes.
Lebanon's colorful blown-glass decanters, water carafes, and glasses date back to Phoenician times, examples of which have been excavated from old coastal cities and are displayed at the National Museum. The skill of Phoenician glass blowers was said to rival that of Venetian craftsmen. One of the villages most famous for this craft is Sarafand, where blown glass is made from recycled materials and is available in blue, green, brown, and transparent colors. Nowadays, new colors can be made by blending traditional with modern techniques, and customized shapes and sizes can be made according to specific designs.
Tableware & Cutlery
Hammered brass and copper trays are a fixture in Lebanon, seen everywhere from the old souks to trendy cafés to the sitting rooms of the finest homes. These trays, and the coffee, tea, and sweets served on them, are symbolic of Lebanon's culture of leisure and its sophisticated art of entertaining. The ornate trays of varying shapes and sizes are hammered by skilled copper and brass smiths with engraved arabesque borders. Copper and silver tableware from the village of Qalamoun is particularly famous for its oriental style, with hand-hammered patterns and calligraphy decorations.
The most well-known cutlery in Lebanon originates from the town of Jezzine, in South Lebanon. Jezzine's trademark ebony- and bone-handled cutlery is typically inlaid with mother of pearl, gold, silver, and other precious metals. Sometimes the handles are carved in the shape of a firebird and vibrantly painted. The cutlery is so well regarded that it has been presented to dignitaries all over the world, a tradition that began in the 18th century with a gift of Jezzine cutlery to Sultans of Oman.
Lebanon's traditional hand-woven textiles are distinguished by their simple, geometric patterns and symbols that are inspired by nature. Textile weaving was disappearing in Lebanon until a recent movement to mobilize and empower rural women to take up this craft once again and build their livelihood on it. Supported by community organizations, women's cooperatives were set up to revive this heritage, which in turn revives the traditional lifestyle of herders and shepherds who supply the raw materials to the weavers. Fine examples of Lebanese textiles can be found in Aarsal, where naturally died kilim is made from lamb and goat wool, and in Fekehe, where carpets are made from natural wool dyed in several colors.
Lebanese artisans craft beautiful products with wood from the olive tree, known for its long life and beautiful natural grain. Woodworkers carve intricately designed boxes and furniture and inlay them with mother-of-pearl or small pieces of darker or lighter wood. Worry beads and water jars are popular products, practical souvenirs that convey blessings from the old mountains of Lebanon.
Grass weaving is a long-standing rural tradition born out of the necessity of using local materials to create objects for practical, everyday use. Grass weaving is still practiced in various regions of Lebanon to make products of many shapes and sizes. In recent years, a movement is gaining strength in Lebanon to revive ancient weaving techniques that connect contemporary creations to Lebanese roots. In Aamchit, a workshop is reviving a very old palm leaves weaving technique to produce exquisite furniture pieces for the fashionable set. In Aakkar, an old tribe is still weaving locally planted grasses, while in other villages baskets are woven from local bamboo or oud. Other popular Lebanese woven products include woven reeds and palm leaf baskets, hats, and mats.
Finely embroidered table linens and bed linens are another hallmark of Lebanon's cultural heritage. Needlework is a domestic craft that has been passed down by women from generation to generation, perfected over months and years of cold winters living in the mountain villages of Lebanon. In some villages, it is the tradition for young women to finish their own bed covers as a sign of being ready for marriage. Competitions are held to reward and recognize women for the best needlepoint inventions, combinations, and techniques. Nowadays, fine needlework and intricate embroideries are also incorporated into home décor with items such as cushions and wall hangings, or are worn as fashion pieces such as clothing, jewelry, handbags, and other accessories.
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