October 16, 2013

Mud Houses

Some amateur-archeology today. You are warned.
Last week I was in the south-western part of the Beqaa Valley; this week work brought me to the complete other side, the north-eastern part of the valley.
And although in the same valley, which is not that big (120 km long and on average some 16 km wide), it is a totally different region: much more rugged, dry and desolate. The south is somewhat green and lush, whereas the northern part is desert.

And one region in specific always surprises me; El Qaa. It is a Christian village quite close to the border of Syria, and it is the only place in Lebanon where you find the remains of a large number of original mud houses. I have written about it before so you can stop reading now.

Mud houses were invented in the Middle East (In Iraq, to be exact). When people started settling down, and looked for more permanent shelter, the building material of choice was mud, probably the only building material available. It was cheap, readily available and very malleable.
In swampy spots we find reeds, which have always been used with mud in construction. Another material is chaff, the residue from primitive threshing methods using sleighs. Mixed with clay or mud it acts as a bonding agent which prevents the formation of cracks. (source)
This one was almost complete (from the front)
And so well before we ever got to building in stone, and cement, people in Lebanon, especially in country side, built with mud. Not many of these dwellings have survived the time, but for some reason, in El Qaa, there’s loads of them. They are all in ruins, and all that is left are a few walls, but for some reason, people never thought of destroying them completely and using the land.
The back is partially covered with stone, and the original roof has been replaced with cement.
So while driving through el Qaa, which is above Hermel, you suddenly see these beige heaps on both side of the road. I don’t know why it is just in this village that they have all remained, maybe it is related to the large amount of stone tools that are found here, called Shepherd Neolithic.  
The walls up close
Originally, the mud would be covered by a layer of fine chalk, painted white, so you wouldn’t really notice they’re made of mud until they start crumbling down. If you want to know what a proper mud house looks like, there is one Turbol, where someone has built an original mud house and turned it into a museum.
The kitchen still had its original roof of wood and straw.

These days they all built in cinderblocks here, which I assume must be even cheaper than mud. And in a 1,000 years from now, someone will write a post about the remains of cinderblock houses they saw in the Beqaa.
Jumping the irrigation channels


Chris Nelson said...

Dear Ms Galama, I hope this finds you well and I apologise in advance for this unsolicited enquiry.
My name is Chris Nelson and I am Associate Business Editor at The National newspaper here in Abu Dhabi. I am trying to grow my stable of freelance writers based in the wider region and I came across your site recently.
I wonder if you would be amenable to writing occasional commissioned bylined articles for us on business issues. We pay 1.50 dirham per word (about 40 US cents) and articles are usually between 700 and 1,000 words long.
If you are interested, I'd be delighted to hear from you. My email address is:
Thanks very much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely,
Chris Nelson

Anonymous said...

this was on NPR for Lebanon