The coastal city of Byblos is the world’s first stone built-up area. It is from Byblos’s rubbles that the first pottery items were exhumed and these are recognized as the ancestors of Lebanese crafted ceramics.
When it was first created, pottery was crafted by hand and left to dry in the sun. Later, man invented the oven which could provide heat up to 500°C. In the middle of the 5th millennium B.C., ovens were developed that could generate heat up to 1200°C. As for the pottery wheel, it appeared later, around 3500 B.C., in Mesopotamia. Its use rapidly spread outside Lebanon where it is still employed as of today. The clay used by Lebanese pottery craftsmen is considered to be of high quality.
Initially, craftsmen in the region privileged engraved and incised geometrical patterns for the decoration of their pottery. Painting appeared later as a pottery decorating tool whereas enameling techniques only spread across Europe with the arrival of the Arabs. The latter’s ceramics are still righteously considered to be the world’s most beautiful along with that of ancient China.
In Lebanon, there currently exist two artistic trends: The first favors the production of ceramics with a monochrome polished coating and the second more traditional trend, offers a pottery decorated with ancient motifs like zigzags and dark color spirals on a grayish foundation.
The major ceramics workshops in Lebanon are located in Beit Chabab, Rachaya el Fakhar, Assia, Aita el-Fakhar, Jisr el-Qadi, Jamhour, Al-Mina, Khaldeh and Ghazieh.
Located at 30km from Jbeil, the village of Assia is home to a unique rustic pottery that is entirely handmade exclusively by women. This pottery is characterized by the assembly of terracotta plaques (bottom and sides) fastened together with upwards pinching of the clay plaques. The Assia pottery objects are then shaped by beating the bat inserted inside the pot against an opposite surface outside of it. Assia’s craftswomen gather on one of their houses’ porch in the summer to manufacture these renowned solid and sober earth-colored dishes and plates.
The village of Beit Chabab is located at 30km of Beirut, and is home to the timid survival of a ancient prosperous craft. Here, a family of craftsmen still manufactures the huge clay pitchers traditionally used for preserving foods such as olive oil, olives, vinegar, arak or preserved meat. This craft combines the use of the pottery wheel together with the clay roll usually used in the manufacture of pottery vases. The craftsman starts by preparing the bottom of the pitcher on the pottery wheel, and then moves to using the long clay roll to bring up the body of the pitcher.
The Chouf region also accounts for a number of pottery workshops located mainly in Khaldeh, Naameh, Jisr el-Qadi and Bchetfine. Craftsmen of the region still use the pottery wheel, then dry their pottery pieces, coat them and finally apply a varnish before entering them in the oven. The cooking process uncovers beautiful shimmering colors.
Craftsmen in the Chouf region mainly manufacture tea or coffee sets as well as tableware.
Located at 70km south of Sidon, Rachaya el-Fakhar is home to workshops specialized in the craft of the douaks, the traditional Lebanese drinking pitchers embellished with geometrical designs.