Bazaar of the Tentmakers
By Daniel Lanier
One of the arteries of the old Islamic city center of Cairo is the Muizz Li-Din Allah Street. The broad alley goes from Bab Al-Fotouh, theGate of the Victories, north to the Al-Azhar Street, up to the Bab Zuweyla, south of the Al-Azhar. Between these two gates every single furlong seems to be dedicated to one or another craft: brass- and copper working, goldsmiths, waterpipe craftsmen in the north as well as carpet and spice producers in the south. Therefore, the Muizz Li-Din Allah Street changes its name unofficially rather often and is usually known to locals as Souq Al-Nahhasin (Coppersmith Bazaar) or Souq Al-Attarin (Spices Bazaar) or Souq Al-Sagha (Goldsmith and Jeweler Bazaar).
Behind Bab Zuweyla, this main alley continues its way as Souq Al-Khiamiyya Bazaar of the Tentmakers. It is the traditional place for producing and selling tent fabrics, fine and colorful appliqu work as well as printed materials. Here, the little lane is roofed at a distance of 150 meters and conveys an atmosphere of an old medieval market lane.
Only a short time ago the scaffoldings were removed. Following the 1992 earthquake, the Souq Al-Khiamiyya underwent a major reconstruction. None of the buildings were destroyed during that earthquake, but the weakened buildings urgently needed to be reinforced and strengthened. The construction workers left the area, and the tentmakers as well as other traders now welcome the customers, locals and tourists, in newly renovated shops. Many of the goods are manufactured in nearby workshops, but almost all of the shops have somebody sitting there sewing and embroidering in front of the visitors.
The products are a mix between traditional artwork, daily life durables and tourist-oriented kitsch. Especially beautiful are the calligraphic andarabesque fabric ornaments, rich of color, available as pillowcases and as wall hangings. I have witnessed friends from Europe buying bundles of pillowcases, after half an hour of thorough selection, since you wont find one design twice in the whole bazaar. Last winter, for our household, my wife and I purchased a wall hanging that we immediately fell in love with. Pillowcases go for around LE 20 (US-$ 5) and small, simple hangings start at around LE 50 ($ 13), a larger and more refined piece of fabric art might cost LE 250 ($ 63).
To satisfy a more straight-minded tourist taste, the tentmakers offer pharaonic motifs as well as birds, peasants, trees, red-glowing sunsets and other pictorial scenes. Another hit, although probably not necessarily for tourists, are the printed fabrics with red or blue ornaments, which are used everywhere in Cairos streets as festival tents or building site screens. We bought some yards of this brightly colored fabric to cover the European-style sofa and chairs in our furnished flat and it looks fantastic. For not even LE 100 ($ 25) we were able to change our living room into an Arabic salon, although this is only something that we can enjoy, as our Egyptian friends are frowning a little about our unusual taste in.
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