The Olive Soap Museum – Saida/Lebanon

Approaching  Saida on the road from Beirut the first thing you see is the Cruisader Castle of the Sea, located on an islet and built in the 13th century by the Knights of St. John. As far as cruisader castles go, this one is not very big but quite well preserved and it’s nice to walk across the narrow causeway, enter through the wooden gate and climb up a tower to enjoy a fantastic view over the Mediterranean.

The Cruisader Castle Saida

Of course, I couldn’t by pass the castle, but what I had really come to visit was the extraordinary medina of the old town of Saida. It’s different from all other souks and medinas I have visited in the Middle East and Morocco, because it’s entirely enclosed. A maze of vaulted alleys and walkways connects  the different parts of the old town, higher levels are sometimes reached by ladders and shops and workshops are tugged into niches.

A little shop in the Medina

You better mind your head, because cables are hanging overhead and you sometimes wonder how people might be able to identify which cable leads where should there be a problem. And this is also where the first sweet smells waft out from the many bakeries which produce the crisp break called Kakka, consumed as a snack all day long.

I had come in search of a very particular place I had  heard about: The Olive Soap Museum. I took a few wrong turns, but finally found it on El Shakrieh Street in the middle of the Medina.

Olive Soap Museum entrance

For centuries, the building was the location of a soap factory which was erected and modified on many levels. Thanks to the Audi family of Beirut, the structure has been restored and transformed into the thematic museum which documents the long history of outstanding soap in Saida. You enter through the glass doors and are immediately enveloped in the  sweetest smells of the soap. The ingredients used her eare olive oil, slasola kali, a plant from Syria, laurel oil and mi’a, a traditional perfume which is distilled from the resin of styrax, a tree which grows in Hermon and Turkey.

Bayleaf is one of the ingredients

You meander through the many levels of the factory and can observe the different stages which are involved in soap making. Beautifully lit show cases exhibit the different molds in which the soap is pressed and towers of soap bars are everywhere which are piled high  in an elaborate pattern to facilitate ventilation to dry the soap.

Tower of drying soap

Soap comes in all colors

This is where the soap is 'cooked'

Moulds for different shapes

The gift shop downstairs is simply irresistible. Soap in many forms and shapes, gift baskets, perfumes, essences, I could have bought everything. I loved the baby gift baskets and the soap shaped in the form of the traditional clogs worn in a hammam and a tarbouche.

The lovely museum shop

Next to it is a cafe where I enjoyed a Lebanese coffee before plunging back into the  vaulted maze which is the extraordinary medina of Saida. I have put the soap I bought into my drawers and every time I change my clothes I’m reminded of the sweet smells of Saida.

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4 Responses to The Olive Soap Museum – Saida/Lebanon

  1. courtmroch says:

    Holy smokes this looks like an AMAZING place! All of it. The museum and the city. I LOVE soap! It drives my husband BONKERS because that’s what I can’t resist buying. No mater where we go, if I see soaps, I buy them. To know a museum like this exists? Oh…it makes my heart race!!!! Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • allnight3 says:

      Fancy that!! We have the same ‘obsession’. I’m forever buying soaps too, so that museum was paradise. I never really knew how soap is made, but there I got an education.

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