Cairo | Bab Zuwayla & the Street of the Tentmakers.

If I was tasked with touring visitors for only a few hours around Egypt, I wouldn't take them to the pyramid, nor the sphinx - I would take them here around Muizz Street. This is the place where remnants of the fallen Fatimid, Mamluk, Abbasid and Ottoman Dynasties can be seen. 

 

Muizz Street is named after caliph Al-Muizz, the fourth ruler of the Fatimid Dynasty which ruled over Egypt more than a millennia ago. He is considered the greatest of all Fatimid rulers.

 

The Shiah based Fatimids were the greatest rival of the Sunni based Abbasids which ruled Egypt then. 

In 969, The Fatimids marched with a force of more than 100,000 Berbers, Sinhajas and Sudanese soldiers in a pitched battle on the banks of the Nile defeating the Ikhshedids. Though technically the Ikhshedids were rulers of Egypt by that time, by means of Suzerainty it was still an Abbasid controlled state

 

There are 2 gates at each end of this street, the north part ends with Bab Al Futuh whilst the southern part ends with Bab Zuwayla. I'll only be covering the southern part of this street in this entry.

 

Though the main road stretches in a straightforward manner for a little more than 1 km, what makes the place unique are the many small alleyways and branches which hides away various ancient and often forgotten artifacts of a time long gone.

 

This is one of those places that gets better the more time you visit it.

 

There's something surreal in knowing that people are living around this area of historical buildings. UNESCO in its official reports states that this street has the highest density of  historic building per square mile anywhere in the world.

 

It is just so easy to get lost in this maze-like street. Next thing I know I stumbled upon a compact children's playground. Don't be afraid to ask the locals if you do get lost, all are very helpful.

 

What makes the place fascinating is that you know every one of these buildings hold several hundred years old worth of stories.

 

Sadly many are left abandoned and many more are destroyed to pave way for living apartments.

 

Continuing on with the origin story, Al-Muizz's 3 predecessors, Al-Mahdi, Al-Qaim and Al-Mansur all launched expeditions to conquer Egypt but failed.

 

Al-Muizz however succeeded, in large part thanks to his charismatic military leader Jawhar The Sicilian. Sicily is an island located in Italy, which was Jawhar's birthplace.

Jawhar was first presented as a slave to Al-Mansour, the 3rd Fatimid Sultan and father of Al-Muizz. Later in life Jawhar received his freedom from Al-Muizz after he became the sultan and the two formed a very close bond. 

 

Following the Fatimid's victory in 969, Jawhar opened up a new capital in Egypt which he named Al-Qahirah "The Victorious", later corrupted by European and English tongues to Cairo.

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Jawhar governed Cairo for 4 years until the year 973 where Al-Muizz took over over.


Following this Al-Muizz moved the capital of the Fatimid Dynasty from Afriqiya (present day Tunisia) to Egypt.

 

It is interesting to note that the planet Mars is also called Al-Qahirah in Arabic. This connection has spun many founding stories of the city linking the 2 together.

 

That dome like structure on the left is a sabil.  Sabils are facilities providing free, fresh water for thirsty people who are passing by.  

 

Msrching through the market Marching along the market street of Khan Al-Khalili, a tall structure looms over - like a giant looking through all of Cairo.

Bab Zuwayla / Bab Zuweila / Bab Mitwali.
Admission: 10 EGP for students, not sure for those without.
Opening hours: Closes on Sundays, on regular days closes at 5.00PM.
Address: Muizz Street.
Nearest landmark: 10 minute walk from Al-Azhar Mosque and Hussein Mosque.

During the medieval period, a city is surrounded by large walls to guard it from invaders. Large gates were built, guarded by soldiers to allow people and carriage to get through. Bab Zuwayla is one of the three gates which still stood in this era.

It was built in 1091, and it was named after the Berber tribe of Al-Zuwayla who guarded the gates.

 

All of Muizz Street is considered as an open air museum by the government so there are descriptions detailing the structures everywhere. Do take the time and read them as there are many interesting local tales that goes along with these structures.

For example, this building is also know as Bab Mitwali when a local saint named Mitwali lived here in the 19th century during the Ottoman era. Some believed that the place is haunted by his soul and offerings are given to circumvent this.

 

For example, this building is also know as Bab Mitwali when a local saint named Mitwali lived here in the 19th century during the Ottoman era. Some believed that the place is haunted by his soul and offerings are given to circumvent this.

 

You can climb all the way up the tower if you may. I'll pass, certainly not with those stairs thank you.

 

Though the tower provides an incredible scenic view of Cairo, it does bring about the realities that its inhabitants are facing, the city is just too packed with people.

 

There were not that many visitors on this tower when I was here. Admission for those with student card is 10 EGP per head. I'm not sure of the entrance fee for those without.

 

That huge mosque on top of the hill is Ali Pasha Mosque, built within The Citadel - a large fortress built by Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. The Ayyubids were the ones who overtook the Fatimids in ruling Egypt.

They were later usurped by the enigmatic Mamluks.

 

Long ago, Cairo used to be called The City of 1000 Minarets. It's easy to see why with the view from up here.

 

Right below the complex are an abundance of candle sellers. 

 

I'm not sure if these large vehicles are allowed into this street during these hours. Moving on.


Street of the Tentmakers / Sharia Khayamiya.
Location: Muizz Street, Islamic Cairo.
Nearest Landmark: Next to Bab Zuwayla, a 10 minute walk from Azhar Mosque and Hussein Mosque.
Closed on Sundays.
 
Now this market one of my favourite little spot in all of Egypt. This covered market exists since the Mamluk era and is the last of its kind that still exists today.
 

Though the name is Tentmaker's Street, tents are not the only thing sold here - cushions, carpets, wall covers, bags, shoes, galabeyas, and scarfs all are on sale also.

 

The roofed alleyway along this 150 metre long street has small openings which allows sunlight to illuminate through. It makes for a very nice visual especially during the afternoon.

 

Long ago, the capital of Cairo was called Fustat, literally meaning the City of Tents. Back then ceremonies and celebrations were garnished by large colored tents not unlike those found in this type of market.

 

Nowadays the tents are only used during the opening of new shops, feasts and weddings but most opted to buy cheaper, mass produced, factory made fabrics rather than these delicate handmade ones.

 

Some sellers adopted to these trends by also investing in mass produced machines of their own. They were kind enough to let me see how they made them.


The prejudice by younger generations that these crafts are work of laborers rather than a work by skilled artists also does not help in raising the value of these items.

 

One thing that makes me return back to this place is how easygoing and friendly all the sellers are. No hardsell, no ridiculous inflation of prices, no need for haggling - it makes for an enjoybale shopping experience.

Even this picture of the cat was encouraged to be taken by the shopkeeper. She saw me, camera in hand looking at the cat and gestured to me to come and take a picture of the cat.

 

Handmade shoes. The shopkeeper had told me the materials that he used in making these but I'm drawing blank right now.

 

He had been making these shoes eversince he was a teenager. This is a generational craft, passed on from his father who in turn learned form his father and so on.

 

The market is closed on Sundays. I once visited this place just after Maghrib and most shops are in the process of closing, so come here before sundown.

 

From my limited observation, the cloth sewn here either has a Pharaonic or Arabic pattern to them. Design motive ranges from fantastical, flowers abstract and khatt - and believe me there's a wide variety to each one of them.

 

Here a man sits, leg crossed stitching wonderfully made cotton covers with skills and craftsmanships passed from their forefathers. If one were to doubt the talents of these stitchers, the black cloth that covers the Kaabah used to be made in here.

 

The sellers here are obviously proud of their craftsmanship. I bought a bag and 5 wallets from him so naturally I would ask for a discount. He would not bulge with his pricing stating that "the sellers at Khan Al-Khalili would sell these for triple the price I can assure you."

The bag costs a mere 90 EGP and each handmade wallet costs 20 EGP. 

 

Looking at the quality of the bags the prices are a bargain. Unreal.

 

My sister states that she saw a leather bag just like these on sale in London for an equivalent of 1300 EGP. I bought one here to replace my aging camera bag. This handmade leather bag mind you is sold for just 110 EGP. These bags are made from buffalo hides.

 

This bag shop is managed by 2 siblings, Ammu Salah and Ammu Magdi. The one making these bags is Ammu Salah as pictured above, very friendly and very attentive to your requests. 

I asked for an extra button on my bag as to not make it too tight when closing it and he did it on the spot, with no extra charges. He said that he accepts custom orders as well.

 

Walking south along this street for 15 minutes will eventually lead you to Sultan Hassan Mosque, also known as The Mosque of Four Mazhabs. Behind the mosque is another mosque, the awe inspiring Ali Pasha Mosque which sits atop the Citadel.

But those magnificent places are best left for another time and entry. 

 

We turn back north back to the beginning of the street towards a mosque named Al-Muayyad Mosque.

 

 

Al-Muayyad Mosque / The Red Mosque.
Location: Muizz Street.
Nearest Landmark: Next to Bab Zuwayla.

This mosque was built on a prison ground, one where Muayyad was thrown into when he was young. So horrible was the treatment given to him during his time in prison that he vowed to transform the place into the mosque if he ever came into power.

 

By 1412 he did, and he fulfilled his promise by building this mosque.

 

Though considered a kind hearted and pious king, he is also extravagant in his spendings. Funds were collected using taxpayer’s money, and the mosque was so ambitious particularly in its detailing that marbles were harvested from other structures during that era.

 

Construction began in 1415 and the mosque was completed in 1422, a year after Muayyad passed away.

 

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The sense of scale of this place is just incredible. You'd never thought that the mosque is this big when looking at it from the outside.

 

This place is actually connected to Bab Zuwyla located next door.

 

During the Mamluk era, the mosque also houses school for the 4 major Sunni mazhabs - Hanafi, Maliki, Syafie and Hambali.

 

You can climb the stairs to the roof as well but make sure to haggle a bit with the place keeper. Depending on your negotiation skills, the price can be from 3 to 10 EGP per person. I wouln't recommend going upstairs though, the view from Bab Zuwayla is much much better.

 

We had just finished uncovering 1/3 of Muizz Street. There are lots more to be found along here.