Scotsabroad's Weblog

May 31, 2009

House Hunting

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 1:52 pm

al Azhar Mosque

Behind the Mosque of al-Azhar is a labyrinth of streets and alleyways. We walked some of this last year on the way to Bab Zuwayla and found the Tarboosh makers. Yesterday we were house hunting yet again. The boys were not enamored by the proposed itinerary (wonderful mashrabiya windows and geometric wall decorations and stunning murals and frescos) but were coaxed along by the prospect of getting a reward from the Khan afterwards. 

We walked to the Barber’s Gate. Long ago students of the university would have their heads shaved here before entering. Beyond the gate we found the entrance to the Wikalat al-Ghuri. Lesley Lababidi writes;

“This is one of the few remaining wikalas (at one time there were more than two hundred such structures in this area) and by far the most excellent example of these commercial establishments remaining. Built around an enclosed square or rectangle, a wikalat (or khan) would have allowed stabling for the camels and donkeys of the caravans in the courtyard or ground floor and storage of merchandise and perhaps small showrooms on the first floor. Slowly, as you look around, you can begin to imagine the merchants haggling, grooms scurrying to and fro, camels laden with packages coming in that same doorway, donkeys, boys, dust, laughter, arguments, heat … life in the time of the sultan.”

Originally the Khan al-Khalili was a collection of small and large khans or wikalas. Outside of Cairo a khan was often referred to as a caravanserai. Today it is all set up for concerts and whirling dervishes. I think they need to get rid of the chairs crowding the rectangular courtyard when there is not a performance.

Wikalatmashrabiya Zeinab

Back outside we squeezed along the side of al-Azhar mosque looking for Bayt Zaynab Khatun. We came across a bookbinders shop. Some very unusually bound notepads and stationery displayed in Abd El-Zaher. When the French occupied Cairo Napoleon and most of his officers billeted themselves in the best houses around Azbakiya, but a few of the accompanying scientists and artists found accommodation around al-Azhar. Perhaps the house (bayt) of Zeinab Khatun was home to a Frenchman. The house has been restored by the French government which might suggest a connection. The house is certainly not on the tourist trail as we left a trail of footprints in the dust covering every surface of the structure. Very impressive mashrabiya.

 Al Khatoun

Outside the house is a paved square and an old house being used as a gift shop – Al Khatoun. This is an Aladdin’s cave of beautiful and unusual items. We bought a coat rack for our new flat and Lucas got a mechanical wooden toy, both beautifully painted. We popped our head in at Bayt al-Sitt Wassila but it was still being restored. The murals and frescos would have to wait.

We will be moving to a two bedroomed flat when we return in August. We can see the windows being painted.


1 Comment »

  1. found your blog while looking for details on Zeinab Khatun house. I am hoping to visit it this trip or next. Nice to see other voyagers getting off the beaten track. Can’t find opening hours.
    Fellow Traveler

    Comment by Barbara — October 15, 2009 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

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