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
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
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
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
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