“Whatever manufactured items there are in the world,” wrote the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi in 1671, “the poor of Cairo get hold of them, set them out and trade in them.” Nearly 350 years later, this tradition lives on in al-Darb al-Ahmar. This neighbourhood of 100,000 people, south-east of central Cairo, is said to be home to a thousand workshops. The place teems with artisans crafting everything from tents, books, boxes and brass lanterns to glass bowls and silk carpets.
The Street of the Tentmakers captures this commercial spirit. Built in 1650 as an arcade, this covered street is a succession of workrooms whose interiors are lined with decorative textiles. From his cubic cavity in the Ottoman-era wall, a weaver called Hasan says that al-khayyamiya, the craft of tentmaking, goes back to the time of the pharaohs. Some of today’s weavers are descended from the families who would produce the kiswa, the fabric that covered the great stone at Mecca, as well as tents, cloths and saddles for those setting out on pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site.
This article gives an excellent overview of this district of Cairo with its weavers, dyers, bookbinders, carpet makers, glass blowers and lantern makers, explaining how many of the buildings have been restored with the help of the Aga Khan Development Network.
To read the full article visit the website of the Guardian
A free exhibition of photographs entitled The artisans of al-Darb al-Ahmar: life and work in historic Cairo is also taking place from 23 March – 24 April at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
For more information visit their website here