Monday, June 6, 2011

Khan El Khallili : Cairo's Great Souk

Article first published as Khan El Khalili in May: Cairo's Great Souk is Open for Business on Blogcritics.

My husband left Egypt to Kenya a few days ago. The day that he left, we went to Khan El Khallili together for several hours.

According to my tourist book on Cairo,

"Khan el-Khalili (Arabic: خان الخليلي‎) is a major souk in the Islamic district of Cairo. The bazaar district is one of Cairo's main attractions for tourists and Egyptians alike."

Well, when Hamadi and I went, it was fun, and romantic. We started our day by getting dropped off at the gate by a taxi. We then sat down at the nearest cafe. I had my favorite drink, lemon with ice. I also had a tasty chicken shawarma. My husband had roasted lamb chops. They were small, so looked like lamb lollipops. Then, we both shared a delicious small salad, or what we call kachumbari in Kenya. Tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cilantro. There was also some nice tahini in the middle of the plate to dunk the pita bread in.

The waiters were amused by my valiant attempts to speak Arabic, and they laughed and smiled, and for the most part, we understood each other. Then, my husband and I wandered into the true Khan El Khallili. You walks into the narrowest of alleys. Above you are the balconies of building built exactly next to each other, right out of a book by Naguib Mahfouz. On either side is shop after tiny shop, with cloths and wares hanging out of the windows. Every possible good, shirts, embroidery, boxes of mother of pearl, silver earrings, spices, can be found in Khan El Khallili. It is a veritable cornucopia of the best Egypt and the Middle East has to offer, all to be had at the best price you can negotiate.

The tragic part is that the drop in tourism caused by the Revolution means fewer customers. Each vendor was more anxious than the next. Each one was desperate to convince you to sample his or her wares. There were very few customers that day, perhaps a few dozen. I was dizzied and thrilled by the selection. I bought a gorgeous embroidered blue shirt, some stunning silver braid earrings, several spices, and many beautiful boxes. But I became exhausted by the persistence of the vendors. I was relieved I was with my husband. Remember that in a normal year 11 million tourists come through Egypt, and the great majority of them pass through Khan El Khallili. The vendors must really be suffering right now.

According to Frederick Kunkle writing on April 19, in the Washington Post, The drop in tourism after the Revolution has hurt Egypt's economy.

In February, tourism was off 80 percent compared with last year, and it was down 60 percent in March, []. That is a crippling blow for a sector that accounts for one of every seven Egyptian jobs and makes up about 11 percent of the nation's economy.

Egypt is perfectly safe now. There are so many opportunities for people to shop, and view this land of amazing contrasts.  Come see the New Egypt. Save Khan El Khallili.


  1. I love what you're doing on BlogCritics--these lovely pro-Egypt, tourism boosting posts-- very nice.
    Bless you!

  2. Thanks Fem, I am doing what I can. My husband is in the tourism industry, so of course, we want to help tourism in Egypt. It is an amazing country. I LOVE upper Egypt, and the Nile Cruise blew my mind!

  3. . Yes it is a nice place but I think it is not only for tourist citizen also adore going there because there is something special in that place and when the situation become stable in Egypt Khan AlKalaili will become more crowded because it consider one of the vital feature in Cairo

  4. The Khan el-Khalili of the most beautiful archeological sites in Cairo, which contain the ancient heritage and trade related to these effects, but I think that Cairo these days do not enjoy the safe, which offer details about the end of your article where there are many checkpoints However, I think does not prevent the occurrence of individual incidents, which I wish to end

  5. sharing your experience about touristic sites in Egypt is a bit vital since it reflects the impression of a intellectual tourist about Khan AlKalaili. And i hope this article will gain publicity in order to encourage tourism to come in to play again

  6. Dear Mohammed, I think that it is quite safe at Khan al khallili. However, I would recommend going with a friend, because it is really a nice place to get lunch, or a lemon bin talg. I think it is my new favorite shopping venue.

  7. Dear Dr. Warigia
    I went to this place several times and I'm a big fan of Naguib Mahfouz Cafe, and attending until the morning and eat breakfast there, but I hope to return the security presence was better than that the police have to deal with the Egyptians and foreigners better than the finest

  8. I went to Khan El Khalili once in my whole life with the rest of my team at my work .We had one who never visited Egypt before and we liked to show him this place. I enjoyed being there. However, it is going to be enjoyable if it was with friends. May be in the near future, I might reconsider going there again with my friends, not these days since it might not be safe as it used to be.

  9. We MUST obtain the sense of being helpful to our country by do such visits. I agree with you Mr Mohamed that there is somehow a lack of security, out duty now is to eradicate this feeling and participate in reviving Egypt’s economy. The security breakdown in Egypt nowadays will never constrain the Egyptian daily lives. We MUST realize that what is happening now is normal consequences after the revolution . As we support it , we must help it to survive by encouraging the tourism sector.By the way this incredible journey of Dr Bowman’s family reminds me of my Dad ( alla7 yerhamo) he was fond of visiting Al Hussien and Khan El Khalili.

  10. Dear Rabab

    I really like your passion! Mabruk! anyway, I found khan al khallili to be perfectly safe. The only issue was that the vendors are a bit tense, and, as a result, pushy. accordingly, I recommend that you go with a friend. I still want to find out where the naguib mahfouz cafe is.

  11. I think it is the time now for the Egyptian to show up that they care about the future of their country, so they should organize trips to these sites to refresh the tourism sector .I think its a duty, so I will go there the next week with my friend as I thought people should involve in building the state economy as they took part in the revolution.

  12. Really I adore that place; Khan el Khalilli to me is not just a bazaar, it's a place that has its own magic as it is in the heart of old Cairo. Every time I go there I enjoyed as it’s like my first time. I really agree with you Dr. Warigia about the tragedy of the vendors; I feel sorry for them because they got affected after the 25 Jan revolution, as Khan el Khalilli is considered one of the most appealing touristic sites, as many other places in Egypt. So, I think it's our role now to go there and refresh the tourism by ourselves to help in rebuilding our EGYPT.