The Dates Market that Sells Everything
by Seif Kamel
Although I have lived near this place all of my life, I cant remember whether I have once visited the market. Maybe because it is usually crowded with people most of the day or maybe because it never crossed my mind, but I never had the chance to walk through Wekalet El Balah or the dates market in Cairo. And after my visit there, I now know I have missed a lot.
The market is located in the old neighborhood of Boulak Abu Al Ela, so close to the river Nile and on the left hand side of the World Trade Center and Arcadia Mall. This markets history goes back to the beginning of the 20th century.
The dates market got this name because in the past it was the place for dates trading. This is because of its location near the Rod El Farag fruits and vegetables market a few miles to the north and also because of its great location on the river Nile. Ships would come from all over Egypt, especially from Aswan, loaded with dates. The ships would come to Wekalet El Balah and give the dates to sellers to sell it in the market or even the traders would use the market as a stopping point before leaving to another port in Egypt.
The second stage of the history of the market was when ships started arriving to Wekalet El Balah carrying large amounts of used clothes from all over the world and from Europe mainly. Once they reached the market, they got cleaned and sold again with cheap prices and reasonable quality. The market used to attracted thousands of people from all around Cairo or even from all around Egypt, especially the poor and the medium classes of the society. This is because these people used to find all that they wanted in one place and with great prices. With years passing by, the market started selling other products like spare car parts, fruits, and vegetables. Nowadays, the Wekalet El Balah is considered one of the most famous markets in Egypt.
The weather was very hot on this Thursday at noon. This is why I chose to take my tour at this time as I thought it might not be very crowded and I would be able to take photos and have a look at the goods being sold. The parking in this area is not easy. However, with some luck and help from the parking people there, you can find a suitable place to park. Fortunately, I didnt have to face this problem as I live near the market. I walked for about 10 minutes and then I took a right into the 26 of July Street, the beginning of the Boulak neighborhood. Even at the beginning of this road, sellers are spread everywhere selling different womens clothes and with prices I never thought existed. Some ladies tops are being sold for 10 to 15 Egyptian pounds. Some of these clothes were really nice and stylish and I was astonished to see them being sold with such prices.
Once you take a right from the 26 of July Street, you are totally in a different world. Its a long street with two sides and on each side there are numerous stores selling outfits and clothes. This is besides the sellers who sell their goods in the street with no shops. Most of the goods were clothes designed for going out on different occasions and mostly for women. There were other shops that were selling ladies underwear and lingerie, but I couldnt look much into these shops because of embarrassment and because the shop owners wouldnt ever allow me to take photos under any circumstances. The shop that attracted me the most was a near store that sold very beautiful carpets. They have a huge variety of colorful carpets with very good prices.
After 10 minutes of walking, I entered another section of the market. This place specializes in selling shoes and school bags. And because we are in the start of the school season in Egypt, there were so many parents and pupils buying their needs for the start of school. I liked many sports shoes that I saw there and they were cheaply priced. You can buy a good sports shoe that doesnt differ a lot in the shape or quality from the international brands for a price that ranges from 30 to 60 Egyptian pounds. The bags also have good quality and the pupil can use them for one or two years without having to buy a new one.
The third section is a big vegetable and fruit market. If you want to view a traditional food market in Egypt, this is the place to go. You will find tens of vendors selling all kinds of fruits and vegetables, which came from Rod El Farag. Sellers shout a lot to attract buyers. They all interact together in a tasty harmony as you are listening to some Arabic songs. You can find some fresh fish and chicken in the market as well. If you are going to cook a fresh traditional Egyptian dish, this is the place you should visit. The goods come with good prices and they are all fresh and look tasty.
To continue in the Wekalet El Balah market after the food section, you would have to take a right. Unfortunately, I took a left or to be more precise I stayed in the same street. And when I realized I had to take a left, I had to pass into very narrow roads that we call in Egypt Hara. I watched many styles of life and how some poor people are really enjoying their lives. There were so many kids playing in small spaces and many people laughing and talking.
After walking for about 15 minutes, I reached the main section of the Wekalet El Balah Market, which is the textile and cloth section. You can enter this section immediately by taking the right after 26 of July Street. All kinds of cloth and fabrics can be found in this section. There are classy stores and there are also vendors who sell their goods in the street. All colors, designs, and material of cloth can be found in this section. The prices range a lot from the sellers in the street to the big stores there, according to the quality and the brand of the cloth. This section was over crowded with people but the significant factor is that there wasnt any group of people without a woman. It is hard to find two men walking there and buying stuff. The man has to take the opinion of the woman in such a case of buying cloth for covering a sofa or for curtains to put behind the window. Many Egyptian women buy cloth from Wekalet El Balah for their outfits for different occasions like night outings or weddings.
Beside this cloth market, there is a small section for used and new spare car parts. Any spare part of a car in Egypt can be found here even if you can not find it in the Opel or Mercedes official shops, for example. However, dont ask for the source of these spare parts or from where they came.
Wekalet El Balah market is a wonderful place to get a taste of a traditional Egyptian market and feel you belong to the Egyptian society. There are also many precious goods. You only have to take a good tour in the market and choose a good piece of cloth or a stylish outfit for a dinner outing. Try to go early in the morning if you dont like crowded places because in the afternoon the market will be full of people selling and buying good products with reasonable prices. A walk by the Nile after a tour in Wekalet El Balah would be very refreshing as the view there is fascinating.
Last Updated: June 8th, 2011