Still two months away, yet on entering the covered street of Khayamiya, one feels that Ramadan has already begun. Songs celebrating the holy month can be heard everywhere. Colourful lanterns in different sizes illuminate the shops. Decorative textiles and famous characters associated with Ramadan like Bogy and Tamtam are hanging here and there.
In fact, this joyful atmosphere can be felt anytime in that 100-metre covered street whatever the occasion is. It is equipped with thousands of products and decorative textiles, which have no relation to the history of the place that dated back to the Ottoman era.
When leaving the Fatimid Cairo from Bab Zuweila heading to this narrow, covered street, there are two wikalas on the left and right side, both belonging to Ottoman emir Radwan Bek.
“On the right is the wikala for manufacturing leather shoes, while the left is for making pistols. The roof which connects the two wikalas is named after the Ottoman Emir Qasaba of Radwan Bek. He built it in 1637,” Gamal Abdel Rahim, Professor of Archaeology and Islamic Arts at Cairo University, told the Egyptian Mail.
The Qasaba means the central part of a town. Qasaba of Radwan is the only remaining example of a historic covered market street in Cairo.
The second floor of the two wikalas were used as homes for the traders who work there.
Professor Abdel Rahim said that the original place for manufacturing Khayamiya, that type of decorative, geometric appliqué textiles, is located some steps away from the covered market.
“The 400-metre area located after the Qasaba dates back to the Mamluk era in the 15th century is the original place for making that decorative textiles,” he said.
“The area has a number of Mamluk monuments such as the Mosque of Mahmoud al-Kurdi al-Istadar which was built in 1395,” he added.
In time people used the Qasaba as a market for selling Khaiyamia decorations, he said.
The sunshine lighting the street through the rectangular holes in its roof lends a cheerful atmosphere to the place. The decorations made from Khayamiya are overwhelming all year, especially in Ramadan.
Stroll and enjoy the sight of the colourful products with its decorative designs and see how the clever artisans make these products that they were inherited from Mamluks.
These products need time, cleverness and patience to appear in such an impressive way. The craftsmen used to sew or stick small pieces of fabric onto a large piece of material to form motifs.
These large lengths of material covered in appliqué are used for decoration. They consist of three layers, a heavy backing and on top of that, a background to be covered with the hand-stitched cotton appliqué.
In the 19th century, the artisans used cotton, dyed by hand in shades of three main colours: red, white and blue, as well as recycled fabrics.
One observes that Khayamiya designs vary for its motifs. Here are geometric patterns, curved lines and arabesque shapes inspired by Islamic designs.
Interestingly, some tentmakers use the Pharaonic element in their patterns, like the papyrus and the lotus. They also depict the folktales of Goha, Nubian musicians and whirling dervishes. They are keen to inscribe Quranic verses and to use different forms of calligraphy, to enhance the beauty of their handiwork.
The colourful tents the Khayamiya artists make are not just used in artistic Ramadan nights, but also as backdrops for weddings, funerals and even outdoor conferences and meetings.
The Khayamiya was associated with the Kiswat al-Kaaba (covering of the Kaaba in Mecca), embroidered with gold and silver thread.
Egyptian tentmakers made the Kiswa up to the 1960s and it is one of their major works. In the old days, the Kiswa was sent to the Hijaz in a majestic procession, covered in a Mahmal, (an embroidered travelling tent).
Throughout the 20th century, many pieces of this colourful fabric were collected by tourists on their visits to Egypt as souvenirs, especially during the two world wars, when there were many soldiers and nurses here. These unique pieces of material are on display in a number of museums all over the world.
The street is worth visiting as there are several shops selling colourful, handmade leather sabots and shoes that are so light and comfortable, wearing them feels like walking barefoot.