In the Khan el-Khalili, the big old market in the center of old Cairo, you can find just about anything you want. A visit to the Khan is on every tourist itinerary so of course there is no shortage of belly-dancing costumes, stuffed toy camels, and plastic pyramids. But the winding side-streets are also home to hundreds of little shops where Egyptians go to buy everyday goods at low prices, and where everyone can enjoy street food and a lively atmosphere in the evenings.
The Khan is also the place to find many of the local products and artisan items that Egypt is known for. Some parts of the khan are still divided into districts selling specific things, such as gold jewelry, copper goods, and spices.
One of my favorite areas of the Khan is tent-makers’ alley. The vendors here in this old covered souk specialize in made-to-order Bedouin-style canvas tents like the one we stayed in when we visited the White Desert.
Most of the tentmakers also sell other textile items like decorative cushion covers and tablecloths made from bright geometric Ramadan fabric.
But my favorite thing in tentmakers alley are the appliqué wall hangings and bedspreads, an art form called khayamiya.
Knowing how much I admired them, my sweet husband’s Christmas gift to me this year was the promise of an appliqué wall hanging (a practical choice, too, since we were traveling at Christmas and you don’t have to wrap and pack promises). This past weekend we finally found time to go downtown and pick out my present.
We looked in ALL the shops along the alley. I knew I wanted a colorful wall hanging with birds on it, but the workmanship varies and I wanted one with small, even stitching.
Once we settled on a shop, the vendor sent out for tea (part of the process when they’ve got a serious customer),
and when I told him I wanted one with birds, he started pulling out one piece after another from cupboards and drawers. It was a bit overwhelming, but eventually I narrowed my choices down to five, then two, then finally one.
But in the process Andreas found one he just had to have. So in the end we went home with two wall hangings.
There are small workshops in the back streets here where they make beautiful perforated metal lamps. Maybe next Christmas….