by Juergen Stryjak
I have never found it recommended as a good shopping address, not in guidebooks or in magazines: the Sednaoui department store located near Al-Ataba Square in Cairos Ezbekkiyya neighborhood. They might be right, since Sednaoui doesnt offer the latest fashion nor souvenirs or jewelry or other things a tourist would like to buy. Sednaoui is a state-owned department store for middle and lower middle class Egyptians with dusty commodities in a neglected atmosphere. If you have ever entered a state-owned storehouse in communist Eastern Europe in the early Seventies, the displays at Cairos Sednaoui department store look exactly like this.
But theres something else which makes a visit to the Sednaoui branch in Ezbekiyya a very special and exciting shopping experience. It is the interior design, the furniture, the architecture, the whole atmosphere that gives the shopper a feeling of having entered a hidden secret place, which has just woken up after a long historical nap.
The three-story department store was inaugurated by the Sednaoui brothers Samaan and Selim in 1913 and quickly became a first-class shopping address for rich Cairenes and foreign expatriates. Its fin de sicle architecture was inspired by famous European department stores, and especially with its great atrium it looked like a little sister of the Galleries Lafayette on Boulevard Hausmann in Paris. Since its nationalization in 1961, the government hasnt invested very much in updating the store. It might sound strange, but this was a piece of good fortune for the Sednaoui. Due to a lack of money, the new administration was unable to destroy it with modernization in the Seventies or by turning it into a mall in the Eighties and Nineties. Sednaoui stopped being a good choice for shoppers with its interior design looking more and more worn out while the management failed to offer a special selection of high-end, trendy products but it kept staying what it always was, an elegant romantic place with an almost untouched shape inside and a great atmosphere, nothing less than a landmark.
Todays visitor has just to walk through one of the entrances and he will find himself carried into the past. Cast-iron galleries and pillars, wide curved staircases and balustrades, a ceiling of glass, free-standing elevators, which still work, and old inscriptions on wood in English and French a quiet and relaxing journey back into Cairos Twenties and Thirties. The department store desperately needs some maintenance and renovation, which will apparently happen after the storehouse will be privatized again during the next months or years, but in the meantime, as long as nobody feels the need to do something, no one will do something bad.
The displayed goods are not really standard tourist items, but if someone enjoys rummaging around, he may find hidden treasures among clothes, tableware, toys or other things. Once I visited the Sednaoui department store with a young German fashion journalist. He was really excited and insisted to see the suits, trousers, ties and jackets which have hung there surely since the Eighties, and with which one can make the whole European underground club crowd, green with envy.
Sednaoui Department Store. Khazindar Square, Cairo, near to Al-Ataba Square and near to the multistory Al-Ataba car park at the northeast corner of Ezbekkiyya Garden.
Last Updated: June 9th, 2011