Not Just Another Khan
Cairo addicts know it, and the first-timer to Cairo will get to know it very soon the whole city is a shopping paradise, with its countless markets, dozen of noisy shopping malls, trade centers, hotel boutique arcades and its unique areas, where whole neighborhoods are dedicated to one single product. You need shoes? No problem! Downtown around Talaat Harb and Qasr Al-Nil Street is the shoe heaven located, with hundred of shops which are out to get only one thing, okay, two things your feet.
The mother of all markets, of course, is the Khan Al-Khalili, that medieval bazaar hotspot, which must not be missed in every sightseeing tour. Nevertheless, the Khan Al-Khalili is not easy to deal with. Swarms of salesclerks swoop down on the curious tourist, capable only of whispering their Only looking! in not less than at least ten different languages, Russian and Japanese included, not to speak of the overwhelming number of displayed goods and the necessity to haggle about the prices. Although undoubtedly a lot of fun, its not everyone's cup of tea.
For this reason let's recommend another Khan, the Khan Misr Touloun. Also located in medieval Cairo, just in front of the Mosque Ibn Touloun, it offers everything which the souvenir hunter could dream of, with a smaller but better selection than the Khan Al-Khalili. Now, the Khan Misr Touloun can't be really compared with its big brother, since it is only a shop and not a whole neighbourhood, but, oh, what a special one! Since 1996, Frenchwoman Maryse Borhan and her Egyptian husband Ismail sell goods accumulated from their travels to villages and oases over all of Egypt or or are aquired from Egyptian craftsmen, having traveled from great distances to Cairo, solely to provide the Khan Misr Touloun with their unusual products. The craftsman's reward? A very fair price for their wares, with a reasonable profit of 10-15% for the shopowners resulting in a nice benefit for the tourists. While the prices are fixed and there is no haggling, the consumer can take satisfaction in the fact that their money has also been spent on a worthwhile cause. For example, in the Khan Misr Touloun, you will find ethnic-style clothes, bedspreads and table clothes, all made of high quality Egyptian cotton, made by the Nagada community of Upper Egypt. This community maintains weaving techniques and traditions dating from Pharaonic times. You will also see garments for children and adults transformed into extraordianry works of art by the crochet talent of the women of the Bashayer workshop located in Helwan near Cairo.
What else can be found at the Khan Misr Touloun? Objects carved from wood, tableware, boxes etc., coming from Hagaza, a village in Upper Egypt, photographs and posters with Egyptian subjects for expensive tastes, glazed pottery made by peasant children in Fayyoum Oasis, beaded bags manufactured by African prisoners of the Egyptian prison Qanater, rag dolls in Sinai- and Siwa-inspired costumes, and last but not least and without making the list of goods near to be complete, leather masks made by shopowner Maryse Borhan herself.
All in all, there are a lot of wares to discover and buy without exploiting the craftsmen, at a place where the average shopper can transform her- or himself into nothing less than a supporter of, yes, cultural values and economic development.
Sounds nice? Khan Misr Touloun, located in front of the Mosque's Ibn Touloun main entrance. Open from 10:00 am till 5:00 pm, except Saturday and Sunday.
Telephone: 36 52 227.zTour
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Last Updated: June 1st, 2011
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