Ottoman-era soap factory discovered in old Jaffa            

A 19th-century soap factory was found below the Uri Geller Museum, currently under construction.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A factory that made soap from olive oil during the Ottoman period was discovered under a private museum under construction in Jaffa, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Tuesday.

The well-preserved site “included troughs for mixing raw materials for the soap, a large cauldron, a hearth, water cisterns and underground vaults that were used for storage” of the finished  products, said Dr. Yoav Arbel of the IAA. It is the second of its kind to have been discovered in the city, he noted.

The 19th-century plant was found when the Israel Electric Company began rewiring an old building so that it could house a museum being built by famed Israel-born telekinetic expert and telepathist Uri Geller.

“I felt intuitively that there is something under” the floor, Geller said, even though it was covered with rubble and other garbage – and indeed there was.

The industrial-scale space held olive oil, soda ash from saltwort plants, lime and water, which workers mixed together and cooked in huge vats for seven to 10 days, according to an IAA statement.

The liquid soap would be poured onto special lime-covered surfaces, where it would cool down and solidify for another 10 days until it could be cut into bars onto which the factory seal would be embossed. These would be stacked up and left to dry for another two months before being sold locally or exported, mainly to other Ottoman countries like Egypt.

Such soap was popular among Muslims because the oily main ingredient was not the forbidden pig fat, which was what European soaps consisted of at the time.

Geller consulted with former Tel Aviv District archaeologist Moshe Ajami, who suggested turning the newly discovered underground vaults into display areas for ancient items connected to magic and sorcery. Having received several awards for his contributions in promoting these mysterious entertainment fields, Geller agreed, and that project is slated to begin once the museum opens.

Geller’s museum will display unusual artifacts and gifts he has collected from personages including Salvador Dali, David Bowie and Albert Einstein. A cadillac that he has covered with around 2,000 spoons belonging to famous people such as John Lennon and Michael Jackson, most of which he has bent without using physical force, will be parked there as well.