Weaving has been practiced in Lebanon since the oldest Phoenician times. The latter used to spin wool, cotton and linen into threads on a spindle (a wooden spike known as the shaft) before moving to the use of a manual loom. The fabrics produced then were of high quality and served mainly as barter merchandise. The good reputation of Phoenician fabrics was strengthened even more upon the discovery of Tyrian Purple (or Royal Purple), a dye extracted from a mollusk (the murex). These fabrics were unique in that their color became deeper with sun exposure whereas other dyes used to lose their vividness in the same conditions. Royal Purple fabrics spread widely across the antic world and their prices soared.
At the beginning of the Byzantine era, a missionary monk brought back silkworm eggs from China. Sericulture or silk farming spread rapidly in Lebanon and soon enough, natural silk fabrics trade became the region’s most important source of revenue. Here again, the most beautiful silk fabrics were those that were dyed with Royal Purple. Byzantine emperors appreciated them so much that they covered the walls of their palaces with the purple silk. The sons and daughters of the Byzantine emperors were entitled “porphyrogénètes”, as in “Born in the Imperial Purple Room”.
After the extinction of the murex mollusk, Lebanese craftsmen turned to polychrome embroidery of silk. Sericulture and silk weaving remained the Lebanese people most important trade up until the First World War and their major clients were French (namely Lyon and Marseille). Unfortunately, sericulture declined dramatically with the advent of artificial silk production, although it is being revived today in Lebanon with the help of an organization dedicated to support natural silk craftsmen.
The major silk weaving centers in Lebanon are now Baskinta, Zouk, Barja, Bchetfine, Baadaran, Kousba, Chhim, Fekhe, Irsal and Bakkifa.