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Khan Al Saboun - The Hassoun Family and the Craft of Soap - Order the soap collection

In previous articles I have talked about the history of soap-making in the world and in particular in Lebanon. Now this article will be devoted to the great project of the Hassoun family and their career in the manufacture of soap.

Their great adventure started in Tripoli, which was always a centre of activity for all North Lebanon, especially the region of Koura, where not only olive trees abound but also herbs whose essences and natural oils were of great importance, such as laurel, bitter orange, sage, lavender and honey.

This was a source of income for the inhabitants of the region who profited from the olives and the olive oil, from soap and from elements for detergents and cosmetics. With these the soap-boilers sought to improve the quality and attractiveness of their products. Each family had its little factory and its own techniques, secrets, formulas, recipes, and faithful clients.

The Hassoun family are among the notables of Tripoli, people of considerable wealth and possessing extensive property covered with olive, orange and lemon groves. They also owned shops and houses in what was the most elite quarter of Tripoli, the Nourieh, where there are ancient remains of considerable importance. In this district, the Hassoun grandfather, Hajj Abd ur-Rahman, sold his products such as oil, olives, honey and fine herbs.

Hajj Bashir Hassoun, his brother, supervised the production. His reputation went beyond the borders of Lebanon despite his ninety-six years of age, until systematic industrialization invaded the region, robotic mechanized factories replaced manual craftsmanship and production soared. Several soap shops closed down or declared bankruptcy in the face of capitalist enterprise. The sector suffered unemployment and former masters of the craft became simple workmen. Production reached hundreds of tons as the world changed and inevitably evolved.

So production as a craft declined to the point of extinction, and the Hassoun family had no resource left other than a jeweler’s shop producing both jewelry and gold ornaments, thanks to the son of one of the forebears having set himself up in the craft, to be followed in this domain by a dozen others of the family.

Here I would like to mention that several women in the family had not abandoned the production of soap and of certain cosmetic and medicinal products. Their grandmother, aged one hundred and fifteen, dictated some old secret recipes to the young girls. Meanwhile, Badr, another member of the family, continued to live this noble craft with its customs in his nostalgic dreams, never realizing that he was destined one day to revive the traditional craft of his family, at the same time innovating with perfumed soap, oils with essences for massage, and similar products, but not leaving aside the jewelry business.

During the summer of 1985 his showroom, stores and entire resources were stolen. After having lost everything, this lover of sport and of Nature decided to set up a health center for herbal treatment of the human body. He encouraged his children to practice sport and to respect Nature and the environment, and as a true believer he proclaimed that all was the will of God who rules our destiny and our entire existence.

In the same year 1985 Hajj Bashir Hassoun, named after the elder member of the family, in answer to an invitation from Badr returned from America together with his children. After losing all he had in Tripoli, there Badr had nothing more to lose. The property of the family in Tripoli still exists at Khan es-Saboun
Hajj Bashir remained six months in Lebanon, during which he taught all the secrets to Badr for him to become a first-class perfumer and soap producer. The whole family, men, women and children, threw themselves into the production of a hundred different lines which they exposed in their showroom. They won the admiration of the elite, the general public and the media, and visitors came from far and wide. It became necessary for the Hassouns to take on other craftsmen to deal with the demand.

In no time Badr Hassoun found himself the standard-bearer of the craft of producing soap. He became the subject of the European press and of the TV and radio stations, of all the media. The Badr Hassoun Foundation made the headlines and became a focal point for tourism and concern with the national heritage.

Being both ambitious and bold, Badr Hassoun labored for the progress of the craft. He was creative and open to innovation, inventing new recipes for his soaps, with various natural essences, perfumes and colors.

Within five years the star of Badr rose high in the firmament and he used his name to obtain a trademark forbidding imitation whether in Lebanon or abroad. He took on many responsibilities, made wide contacts, and was a modernizer. He deepened his knowledge and produced new medicinal and cosmetic lines.

Prosperity has returned in several fields of craftsmanship such as carpentry, ironwork, and printing, with employment benefiting. With imports and exports, Khan es-Saboun is again active. The Hassoun Foundation collaborates with schools and encourages exchanges on many levels, particularly with Europe, bringing in experts who give talks and carry on research, all with the aim of improving the precious soap.

But in Tripoli itself, an ancient city, there are frequent traffic jams, a dense population, and little available space. So it was decided to move the business some little distance out of Tripoli into the Koura district where Badr Hassoun owned extensive property.

In the village of Dahr el-Ain bordering Tripoli, he laid out a tourist village with due attention to the environment and there installed his soap factory. There is a large hall as a showroom for the cosmetic lines and beauty products, herbs and honey, a traditional Lebanese steam bath, a spa, and a giant alembic once used for distillation. There are management offices for running the Foundation, a large health-food restaurant, the village square, a bakery where everything conforms to the requirements of natural health, a small vegetable garden, a little farm for domestic animals, and even a hotel now under construction. The whole tourist site has been carefully studied to make enjooymment easy for visitors, so a most agreeable day may be spent in this resort of magic beauty.

Joseph Matar - Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

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