In a garden filled with jasmine, lavender and olive groves, lies a charming Lebanese mansion that was once a flourishing silk manufacture. Now turned into a museum, it is one of the rare testimonies of the blooming age of silk making in Lebanon.
The Emir Fakhr-al-Din, at the end of the 16th century, imported silk production to Mount Lebanon from Italy. Farmers planted white mulberry trees, silkworms’ main food, and women in the house looked after the animals, feeding their ravenous appetites. The silk industry created the first jobs for women outside their homes. They were sought after as they worked longer hours, were paid five times less than men and had slender fingers allowing them to work meticulously with fragile cocoons and thin threads. White and fine threads from Tripoli were used for gold embroidered fabric, the strong silk from Beirut for weaving taffetas, moiré or tapestry, while the Chouf and Kesrouan’s robust and yellowish silk was suited for velvet. The first spinning mill was established by a merchant from Marseilles, Nicolas Portalis, in the village of Btater, using modern techniques. Silk was the most important industry in the 19th century and a class of rich merchants emerged. Trade from different cities across the region transited through the ports of Saida and Beirut on the way to Ottoman cities, Europe and Africa.
The Bsous Silk manufacture founded in 1890 terminated its activity in 1945. The region was suffering from bad harvests, war and foreign competition’s lower priced synthetic fabrics. In 1966, a couple, Alexandra and George Asseily, fell in love with the land and devoted their energies to bring it back to life. Reopened as a museum in 2001, it testifies of an era when the production and commerce of silk brought wealth to our mountains and seaports. Evening dresses, embroidered bags and tapestry adorned the life of emirs and sheikhs. Along with silk works, traditional techniques and machines the museum presents an exhibit every year. Until November, Silk Fantasy invites us into the world of Italian designers from the 70s to 90s. Gucci, Versace and their contemporaries were the first to draw patterns on silk, with playful cravats, flowery dresses and blouses. Andrea Pfister’s imaginative prints dialogue with the designers’ clothing, along with scarves highlighting artist Ken Scott’s spectacular color combinations. A gem from the past, the museum’s regular exhibits offer perspectives for a fading craft by revealing traditions and techniques from countries along the Silk Road.
The Silk Museum – Bsous – Casa of Aley
Haret el Sett Street
📞: +961 5 940767
Fax: +961 5 942834
Silk Fantasy exhibit ends November 8, 2015. The museum reopens in Spring 2016