March 20, 2012

khan el khalili Bazaar in Cairo | Travel To Egypt Story 13

Goods in the bazaar are not priced, and it is not necessary to pay the asking price for anything. One is expected to haggle over prices until a price is reached that is acceptable both to the customer and the merchant.

khan el khalili
Hefty Egyptian women will bargain in loud voices, fingering the merchandise while haggling over the price. Watching them, it almost seems as if the statue of Nofret has escaped from her exhibit in the museum, as they have luxurious hair and enormous eyes outlined with thick lines of kohl. Even when a really beautiful women is shopping, she will cast off her inhibitions to haggle over prices in rough tones, as if the family were parting with its last pound. She usually stalks out of the shop, indignantly refusing to buy anything. The proprietor rushes after her and makes another offer, and there in the street she beats him down to the price she is prepared to pay.

The really difficult thing to buy is antiques. How can anyone really tell if something priced at a hundred or a thousand dollars is the genuine article? A real expert will hold an object up to the light, sniff at it and finger it to test the feel with their bare hands. Some shops issue guarantees that the article is genuine, but then, who can say if the guarantee is authentic?

Tourists are regularly approached by Egyptians who promise them a good price for their U.S. dollars on the black market. Unwary tourists who have been taken in have sometimes found themselves being informed that the tout is in fact a police officer and that they are under arrest.

In the bazaar, fakes are mixed up with the genuine article in more ways than one. But after being duped a number of times, one gradually develops a discerning eye for the genuine article. When it comes to the value of experience, the Khan-el-Khalili Bazaar is the lesson of life in miniature.

Close to the bazaar is the Azhar Mosque and University. Azhar University is the pinnacle of learning for Islamic studies. Both the mosque and the university are worth visiting. Islamic temples crowd the area, and some like the Sultan Hassan Mosque and the Ibn Touloun Mosque represent the peak of Saracenic culture. The architecture of these mosques is supposed to have had a profound influence on modern Western culture.

khan el khalili Bazaar

In the eastern suburbs of the city there stretches the so-called City of the Dead. Off-white houses are scattered haphazardly along the road, but apart from some used as the retreats of vagabonds and thieves, nothing comes here except wild dogs. The buildings house only the remains of the dead. Once a year the relatives and families of the dead gather together and hold a feast. Most of the owners of the houses are wealthy, but there are some plaques that commemorate the soldiers killed in the Palestinian War. The fact that burial customs differ so widely in the Middle East from country to country seems strange to me. In Saudi Arabia, the body of the assassinated King Faisal is buried in a plot of vacant land, and the spot is marked only by a rude stone.

As its name implies, the City of the Dead embraces the concept that the environment should provide the dead with everything they need for “life,” which shows that the attachment to the concept of a world after death, so obvious in the age of the Pharaohs, is still a part of Egyptian thinking.

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