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Published: October 12th 2017
My eyes were burning from tiredness, I needed sleep. But that wasn't going to stop me. Tonight the very first outing in Cairo, a visit the Khan Al Khalili bazaar with my guide Galael and driver Salaeh.
Driving through the streets, the teeming chaos of traffic and people still fascinate me. People LIVE here! This city, this place belongs to them - they do exactly as they please. Drive as they wish. The Cairo Symphony... honking horns. Cars squeeze 4 lanes into a 3 lane highway or 5 into 4 lanes, honking to announce every change of direction on the way while pedestrians suddenly appear, crossing the road anywhere. Even I did it too! It's what you do. Men, women, mothers with toddlers, children. Cars even honk at the traffic cops telling them to hurry up. Cairo has evolved it's own highway code, just like us! To tackle driving there you need to know it. Salaeh was a boss at it, unflappable he calmly manoeuvred our bus through the maze. In 3 days with him I never once felt a GULP.
The vehicles are colorful, horses pulling fringed carriages, donkeys pulling rickety unglamorous carts, scooters, tuk tucks, heavily over
burdened trucks with boxes of assorted products piled extremely high with higgledy piggledy imbalance, Benzes and bicycles. Women in black burkhas, men in white kaftans, children in western clothes. Stray dogs, lean horses, clusters of sheep, the odd camel, a few cats browsing the piles of garbage every where. Graffiti in Arabic that I can't read. Piles of rubble along roads, dug up and under construction.
First we drove through the bazaar district, catching occasional glimpses of life indoors through half opened shuttered windows, down alley ways, under bridges, on sidewalks beside the congested road.
Khan Al Khalili dates back to 1382 when the walled city was built to protect the Silk Route trade. There were 8 strong fortress entrance gates of which only 2 remain today. At these gates the city collected trading fees from merchants who had traveled from the east bringing precious and exotic spices and precious stones, metals, fabrics and carpets. Such was the nature of incredible wealth before Oil. Cairo was a tremendously wealthy place until the SUEZ Canal opened changing forever the trade route between the east and the west.
Still, the bazaar continued. Today artisans and merchants look out from
small dim lit doorways, showing their specialty merchandise inside often spilling out onto the ancient stone street. Trading continues. There are gold and silver smiths and other metal works, huge baskets on the ground piled high with spices, olives, dates, limes, peppers, fruits, herbs, overhead racks with cloth and fabrics, bundles of carpets, rows of gleaming silver hookahs. The abundance is infinite. If you want it, you will find it.
There is another aspect to the Bazaar. A very surprising one. A street of mosques built by Islamic Rulers who wished to be remembered for their good works. Like an Islamic version of the Valley of the Kings. The 8 mosques were built over a 500 year period, the first was a mosque plus an eye hospital for the poor. Others are remembered for great works in feeding, clothing and giving alms and free education to the poor. Over the centuries architectural styles and tastes changed, and it's noticeable in the designs of the buildings and minarets.
Tonight the narrow roadway is crowded with citizens of the old city enjoying a stroll with their families. It's a pastime for Egyptians to spend a few hours at the Khan
Al Khalili bazaar. Liming.
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