Egypt's Antique Shops
Are they Selling Antiques or Antiquities?
By Amargi Hillier
(Alexandria) The Sook El-Attareen is one of the oldest market places in Alexandria. It has been around since the time of the Mamlouks. The place itself is an antiquity site. It was used as a trading zone due to its strategic location in Alexandria. In addition, Alexandria itself is a coastal city; thus the perfect trading place. The appearance of the Sook (or market) has not changed dramatically over the years. However, the professions of the merchants have changed a lot. You can find in almost every shop wonderful pieces of antiques. There are also workshops to imitate the most famous antique furniture.
The Attareen Market area has an international recognition as one of the most popular antique markets in Egypt. It is all small alleys and shops, each specializing in selling antique furniture, old coins, and antique vases, just to name a few. The problem is that some of these antiques date back to the time of the 19th Century, from the European invasion of the Ottomans. After the 23rd July Revolution, there were many foreigners leaving Egypt and so they sold their possessions to the merchants of Sook El-Attareen. Some of this merchandise remained in the shops until they became considered as antiques, and are now sold as such today.
Mr. Ahamd Abdel Fattah, Manager of the Roman Museum, tells the story of the market and how it has gained such a wide volume of antiques. He says, "The free officers of the July 23rd Revolution had sold the possessions of many pashas and foreigners after nationalizing them. These possessions were sold in public auctions. Many of these possessions belonged to the families of Mohammed Ali Pasha himself. The antiques were sold at cheap prices regardless of their value. Thus there merchants of the Attareen Market were able to buy such priceless antiques at reasonable prices. For example, the binoculars of Admiral Nelson were sold for 10 LE! Slowly, these antiques have turned into antiquities, but were in the hands of many citizens and foreigners. As a result, the antiquities to be displayed in museum have decreased and even became sparse. The only solution for the government is to claim or declare the antiques in the Attareen Market as antiquities, so as to enrich the local museums with the antiquities of such an era. For this era was a turning-point form monarchy to presidency in Egypt. There are almost very little antiquities in our museums which tell the story of this turning point. The time gap has to be filled by reclaiming these antiquities which are sitting in these shops."
The question remains as to how long Egypt keep on losing it recent century antiquities under the name of antiques. Will there ever be a law to prevent such losses? Only time will tell.
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Mostafa Esa, Manager of El-Ghouri Cultural House, will chose a temporary place for cultural activity so as to allow renovations of the Ghouri House. The new location will remain in historic Cairo.
The famous pharaonic village owned by Dr. Ragab, has recently opened a museum of Gamal Abd El-Nasser in memory of the 23rd July Revolution. Gamal Abd El-Nasser, the former President to Sadat, was the leader of this revolution. The museum displays many personal photos of Gamal Abd El-Nasser which deals with many intervals in his life. The museum tells the story of thenationalization of the Suez Canal.
Dr. Gaballah Ali Gaballah announced in a recent lecture that there are plans to keep the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir Square open until 9 pm, instead of its regular closing time at 5 pm.
Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim, an Inspector if Antiquities, has flown to Paris along with 44 antiquity pieces so as to display them in the exhibition to be held at the British Museum. This exhibition is to favor Cleopatra, the once Queen of Egypt. The exhibition will then travel to the United States next month. end