About Arab Culture: Al Khayamiyah

About Arab Culture: Al Khayamiyah

El Khayameyah الخيمية

khayameyaAs we started our walk through old Cairo, we came across el khayameya, or the “Tent Making Street”.  It was colorful and almost festive with all the joyful material hanging all over high and low in the bazaars. The history of the craft as well as the craft itself, in which everything is sewn by hand, seemed so interesting

 

Acer ImageThe word khayameya comes from the word Khemah, means “Tent” in Arabic.  It was started when the Arabs, who lived in and decorated their tents, came to Egypt.  Of course no one lives in tents now in Cairo, but the craft still remains.  The street of tentmakers is full of appliquéd cloth patterns, usually with varying subjects such as calligraphy, or Egyptian/ Arab themes such as donkeys, camels, and geometric designs. It could a bit reminiscent of quilting in the way each design must first be drawn on a large paper, then the paper is pricked with a fine needle outlining each pattern in thousands of small holes.  Black carbon dust is then sprinkles over the paper leaving an outline onto the designated piece of cloth.  The process is repeated many times with different colored material, usually bright red, green, blue and black. Al Khayameya still remains one of the oldest bazaars in Egypt.  It’s a covered market near Bab Zuweila one of the Fatimid Gates of Cairo.  It is distinguished by the wooden cover with openings for illumination and ventilation.  However, I discovered that the Khayameya is endeared by Egyptians because a very special caravan used to depart from there every year.  It was called el Mahmal, and it carried the covering of the Kaaba, which was hand embroidered every year in Egypt in that area.  The caravan would depart from Bab Zuweila to the Hijaz and the procession would include snake charmers, people on horse and camel back.

6Nowadays khayameyah people make all kinds of covers and wall hangings and it’s still one of the favorite spots to shop and visit.  It’s definitely a place to appreciate handicrafts.

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