Old Soil Roof Houses

In the Lebanese villages, the houses were rather simple in structure. They consisted of one big room, one door, and one window. The doors were very short, about 5 feet. The people had to really arch down to enter the house. They built them this way because the Turkish soldiers, who had no respect for the Lebanese, used to ride their horses directly into the house and have their horses stomp on the furniture. So over time doors were built lower so as to prevent these intrusions.

Inside the house there used to be a fixed chimney in the wall, caddy corner style. It was used for cooking and heat only in the winter. During the summer, all cooking would occur outside the house. Other than the chimney, it was very simple inside – there was no high furniture. Single mattresses were placed around the walls and acted as a sofa during the day and a bed at night. The floor was dirt. They either could not afford cement or it just was not available to them, so they would wet the floor down and with round, egg-shaped rocks from a river, they would varnish the floor. A firm up-and-down motion was used to complete this. That would seal the floor and make it almost like marble.

If they wanted to divide the house, they would hang up whatever spare material they had over a string and used it as a curtain to make a separate room. Some of the houses that were bigger used to have a pole in the middle and that would mean they had a larger roof and therefore needed more support for the larger frame. They used to build the wall very thick (about half a meter), made out of nothing but rocks stuck extremely close to each other. From the inside, to seal the walls, they used a white soil (howarraa), mixed it with hay and water and that would make a natural sealant. They then used the bark of a tree and laid it across the ceiling at foot-long intervals. They cut more wood about a foot long, sliced it, then layered it in a criss-cross pattern with the bark to cover the whole roof. That was then completely covered with hay. They would go on to mix dark soil and hay together into a dough shape. They would press this “dough” flat on top. The Lebanese would then hold hands and in a line, go up and down the roof to press it flat with their feet. That helped create the traditional Lebanese dance, called the Dabkeh. Once the roof was flat, they would get a heavy cylinder made of stone and use that to press the soil, as seen in the painting. In winter, if the ceiling leaked, the man would climb a hand-made ladder and use this cylinder to roll up and down to press the dough down further to stop the leak. Every couple of years, they had to dig the top layer of soil because it would get so dry. They would replace it with fresh soil.

The outfit the man has on is the traditional Lebanese clothing. The hat he is wearing is called a kaffey, which originated from the Arab countries. This replaced the original hat shape, called the lebedeh, in the 1900’s. The pants are called sherwal. They would wear a white shirt and a Lebanese-designed vest over that which went down below the belt. Unlike the English vests which have a specific cut, these had no shape to them. It was also very loose. There were no actual buttons but rather string that was tightly wrapped made into circles and used as a button. For the pants, they would wear a white pair underneath the black pants. The white was the underwear. When they’d hang them on the washing line, the pants would extend length-wise for about 2 meters. When worn, all that extra material of the pants was folded over. A belt would wrap around 4 or 5 times around the body to help keep the pants up. There was no buckle on the belt so they would just tuck it underneath.