A 14th-Century Caravansary in Old Cairo: Africa’s Largest Souk
Noisy, wonderful, chaotic, and awash with the smells of spices, incense, and leather, Khan el-Khalili is one of the world’s great bazaars— a sprawling, confusing, enclosed city-within-a-city first set up as a caravansary in 1382.
Everyone here wants your business, your money, your time for a glass of mint tea. Whether you’re shopping or not, bypass the tiny stalls and workshops on the most trammeled pathways (which have become highly touristed) and penetrate deep into the bewildering warren of back alleys, where Cairenes still shop for their dowries, cotton galabiyas, fezzes, and sheehas, or hooka water pipes.
This is the place to practice your haggling technique, but don’t expect to win against merchants with thousands of years of practice in their blood. Almost everything is available here. Mini bazaars within the bazaar specialize in such goods as carpets, gold, fabrics, perfume, and cosmetics (where the tiny pots of eye-lining kohl, Cleopatra-style, are made from burned, crushed olive pits).
Open round-the-clock since 1752, El Fishawy is still the Khan’s most famous coffee and tea house, immortalized by Lawrence Durrell. In a rich 19th- century European ambience of gilded mirrors, hammered brass, and cracked marble-topped tables, puff on a water pipe, have your fortune told, people-watch, and order what is said to be the best coffee in the city, delivered in little brass pots.