Turath Tuesdays: Scents of Syria

The city of Aleppo in Syria is known for many things: its food, its architecture, its pistachios, its music, and its soap. 

The soap is referred to as either Aleppan Soap (صابون حلبي ) or Ghar Soap (صابون الغار) and is a Castile soap made from olive oil, lye, and laurel oil. The arduous process of making these soaps pre-dates that of Queen Zenobia, the 3rd-century Queen of the Palmyrene Empire. It is said that she valued the soap due its medicinal properties.

Each bar of soap takes about a year to make. The laurel oil was originally brought in from the villages directly outside of Aleppo, but as demand increase, producers had to travel further, to Lattakia and Antakya in Turkey, to obtain the quantities needed. However, olive groves were bountiful in Aleppo, and the winter months were spent collective the oil from local trees. 

Production, when the oils were boiled and mixed, usually took place in the winter months.The mixture was then poured on to a flat surface, like a shallow swimming pool, and then cooled. The resulting block of green, roughly-cut fresh soap was cut and branded with the maker’s stamp. After it’s cut, it was allowed to dry for almost seven months, during which time it yellowed. 

The soap, which has parallels in the soap produced in Nablus, Palestine, is also said to have been the first soap to be introduced to Europe; during the crusades in the 11th century, the crusaders were introduced to the soap by the local populations who then brought it back with them to Europe, and began producing their own, most notably the Marseille soap. 

Scholars noted that in 1903, the trade between Aleppo and Baghdad consisted mostly of Aleppo soap and cotton. 

At Karam, we are proud to feature the ghar soap in our Scents of Syria project. This project supports over 50 women in Syria, giving them the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. Please support these women by visiting our online souk to purchase some of these wonderful soaps for yourselves and your loved ones this holiday season. 

This post was written by the Syrian Memory Collective.