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the vat where the soap is prepared Bimaristan Argun (Aleppo, Syria)

Aleppo is a famous old city in Syria.You probably know the name of Aleppo linked to the word soap.

"Aleppo Soap" has a good reputation. It is made from olive and laurel oils. A cube of the soap looks rough, greenish, darker in the middle. But it silkens the skin (of course, Aleppo was an important junction on the Silk Road); it is so smooth, without perfume, dyes, preservative, nor any kind of additive. The oldest soap factory still produces this well known soap in a traditional way. This factory stands in a narrow lane, in front of the Bimaristan Argun.

The Bimaristan Argun is an old psychiatric hospital built in 1354. The planning and the building of this institution represented a great achievement of Islamic society, both medically and architectually.

The entrance door looks like the entrance of a mosque. The inside looks like a palace: an inner courtyard with a pool, fountains, columns, aromatic plants, and a stage for musicians. Around a palace courtyard, are the private dwellings. Around the courtyard in the Bimaristan you cannot see the difference between the doors of the care units and those of the usual rooms. 

The care units are all built on the same scheme : a courtyard with pool, fountains, a vaulted ceiling with an opening to let the infrequent rain and daily sun play with the water. Around the courtyard, the cells of the patients. As the patients get better, they move successively to larger and more open care units until they are able to go back home.

This hospital was in operation until the beginning of the 20th century.

Think of how mad people were treated during Middle Ages in West Europa. The treatment reserved for the mentally ill has been particularly humane in Islamic society, as required by the Koran.

I urge you to go and visit Aleppo; in addition to the interesting sites, the people are so friendly.

    Dec 2010
text and photos by Nicole C.

vocabulary (in English, en français)
a dye = a substance that gives colour   a cell = can be a prison-cell, or any small room to urge someone to do something = to very strongly recommend that they do it

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revised :  01 Feb 2011 / created : Dec 2010

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