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Panoramic Views > South > Saida > Khan Al Saboun

Khan Al Saboun (The Sidon Soap Museum)

It might well excite one’s curiosity to speak of a soap museum without mentioning the history of “sapo” and it might not seem entirely appropriate to use the noble word “museum” in a context which is not satisfactory. At present one finds a Museum of Mankind, of Motor Cars, or Aeronautics, of Wine, of Traditions and Customs, of Soap and of Waxworks, in fact the list is endless.

This sublime word “museum” means a collection, an exposition, a fair, or anything similar.

To begin with, it was the holy Eden of the masterpieces of creative minds, of artists and of geniuses.

The story of soap goes back several thousands of years, before 4500 B.C. to be more exact. In Sumer it was a soapy paste with a basis of clay, ashes and fat, and the same in Egypt and Phoenicia. It was in the 4th century A.D. that the Gallic Romans gave the name “sapo” to a more complex paste that was used for treating the skin and certain disorders. Baths as we know them were taken not at all or once or twice a year. It was only in 1371 at Marseille that soap began its evolution to reach its present form of an indispensable product for general use. Then it was at Saïda, or Sidon, ancient Phoenician city that has seen a whole succession of civilizations and conquerors and which was the capital of Emir Fakhreddine the Great, with many temples and citadels, a palace, a port, and squares, that a distinguished family decided to transform its fine residence into the museum Khan es-Saboon”, for soaps of every shape and color and manufactured with the olive oil so plentiful in the region according to the ancient traditional methods; what is more, a museum still in use, for a soap museum supposes a craft workshop alongside.

At Sidon, which with the Arabs was also known under the name of Irbel, the Audi family, composed of distinguished and courageous Lebanese from the South of the country, possessed this castle and “Hamam”. There were many Hamams in Sidon, such as Khan al-Franj, Khan al-Arz, and so on, where the foreign consuls resided. This museum we speak of was also an old soap factory belonging to the Audis. One may also see various techniques of production widespread from Aleppo to Nablus. There is a great variety of form, perfume and color for the visitor. One may also visit the old Hamam, a cafeteria, and a sales booth offering a variety of local produce, glycerin scented with honey, lavender or rose, oils for the skin, lotions, hair tonics, eau de Cologne, perfume, jasmine, serviettes and tunics.

The museum, being not far from the port and the citadel, gives a clear idea of our customs and of our identity. The architecture is marked by vaults, some of which go back to the 17th century, very old, while others are of more recent build. The East façade, which gives onto a wide boulevard, was restored by its owners the Audis, who are considering the enlargement of the complex by adding other ancient adjoining houses.

- Khan Al Saboun: >> View Movie << (2009-03-01)



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