In Syria, War and Modernity Are No Match for the World’s Oldest Soap
August 7, 2019 10:37 AM   Subscribe

The artisans of Aleppo keep plying their ancient trade, one bar at a time.

When I was a kid, my father would sometimes come home with a suitcase full of earthy-smelling olive-green soap. It was knobbly and waxy and marked with curious Arabic inscriptions that I couldn’t yet read or understand. I wanted to use the same soap my friends were using: a familiar, machine-pressed bar of pink Imperial Leather, whose fragrance mimicked the artificial perfumes in my cosmetics. But my father insisted I use only the Aleppo soap. It was a cleaner, healthier choice, he said. It was a better soap.

posted by poffin boffin (7 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Soon European soapmakers were replicating the product as best they could. The celebrated Savon de Marseille and Castile soap are believed by some to be two such iterations.

I love love love my Savon de Marseille, and have gone to stupid lengths to import it, but had no idea it was a derivative. I am intrigued by this original and must try it...
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:21 AM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

thank you so much for posting, again, poffin boffin. I spent about half to three quarters my time in the region and have plenty of Aleppo soap, found in most souqs in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and, of course, Syria. The other primary competitor is Nablusi soap, from Nablus Palestine and also found in abundance. Crafting traditional olive oil soap in Palestine: The Tuqan factory in Nablus is the oldest survivor of this once-prominent industry
posted by Ahmad Khani at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2019 [11 favorites]

Thanks for this. The Tuqan soap factory that Ahmad Khani linked to above is a gorgeous, fascinating place. The towers of drying soap, some with gaping holes as individual bars are taken, rival any art installations I've seen. The smell and feeling of their soap is like what the article describes, and feels good on my skin (if you're curious, you can find bars on Ebay, but I've also found them sold in random Middle Eastern grocery stores outside Portland, for example). I've tried scented olive oil soaps from elsewhere in the region, and they really didn't compare to the Tuqan soap.
posted by Corduroy at 12:39 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another Sabouni (the last name means soap maker) who left Syria as a refugee is now here in Calgary making Aleppo soap. Here's a recent article about his business, which appears to be doing well.

Aleppo is such a magical city, any positive news about recovery is good to hear.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:56 PM on August 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you're looking for this on Amazon, most of them are labelled as made in Turkey, but I did find this one that claims to be actually from Aleppo.
posted by rossmeissl at 2:25 PM on August 7, 2019

Savon d'Alep is lovely. We have an Adonis supermarket near us, and it has several grades of soap. Being a very traditional soap it's a little disappointing in hard water. Works well as a shaving soap, too, if you don't mind spending lots of time working the brush.
posted by scruss at 8:50 AM on August 8, 2019

After seeing Homeboy Trouble's link to Aleppo Savon in Calgary, I ordered some. It took a while to get to Toronto but it was worth the wait. It's clearly not had the years of drying time that traditional Aleppo/Nablus/Marseilles soap gets — it's soft enough to cut with a knife and the inner core is a rich green — but it's got an incredibly rich lather. Makes a great shaving soap, if you don't mind faintly green suds.
posted by scruss at 3:21 PM on August 23, 2019

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