by Juergen Stryjak
The first time I entered this little shop next to the bazaar Khan Al-Khalili, I had the strange feeling that there was something wrong, but I couldnt identify it immediately. The fine selection of artworks? Yes and no. The complete absence of all that tacky, omnipresent tourist stuff, which you find everywhere in the old Islamic neighborhood of Cairo? Yes and no. The quiet atmosphere, with no blaring tape recorders? Yes and no.
The place was different because of something else, because of a very special reason: No shop owner or salesclerk rushed at me, showing me things I didnt want to see, offering me a discount before I even asked for a price, urging me to buy things in which I had no interest. The Al Khatoun gives you a completely hassle-free shopping experience, watching and enjoying plenty of fascinating handmade artwork, which is, over and above that, displayed in an almost meager, but very effective and stylish interior design. It was a great relief to shop in such a refined and uncluttered atmosphere, and I lingered in Al Khatoun much longer than I usually do at a Khan el Khalili shop.
Being a merchant is not the primary concern of the owners of Al Khatoun and their friends. They are enthusiastic artists, who also happen to be agricultural, or electrical engineers, as well as an accountant or a painter, and they are, lastly, salespeople. Their technical professions helped them to redevelop the building, the ruins of a workshop when they took over. For three months they worked almost around the clock, bringing forth a place, which is, as they say, dedicated to the promotion of local arts and crafts.
Which neighborhood is more suitable for that than old Fatimid Cairo around the Hussein Square? Al Khatoun is located behind the world-famous Al-Azhar Mosque, near to the Zeinab Khatoun House and the Beit Al-Harrawi cultural center, two interesting buildings of medieval Cairo. Many of other historic sights are within walking distance, which makes Al Khatoun the perfect finishing point after a long tour through Fatimid Cairo. In its little backyard, the visitor finds benches and chairs for taking a rest while drinking a cup of tea.
The shop sells different kinds of crafts, many of them unique masterpieces, which combine traditional and modern styles glassware, leatherworks, mirrored patchwork tapestries, marvelous letter openers, linen lampshades with Arabic calligraphy, little wooden furniture pieces or items from brass and copper or other metals. Every single piece is produced in Egypt, by a local craftsmen. At Al Khatoun there is much to discover and buy, and it is definitely worth the visit before you spend your money elsewhere for the standard souvenirs.
Al Khatoun. 3, Mohamed Abdou Street, behind Al-Azhar Mosque. Cairo. Telephone: 51 47 164. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open daily from 12:00 am till 9.
Last Updated: June 6th, 2011