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Walking tour of Islamic Cairo

Destination(s): Cairo

This walking tour of Islamic Cairo is a great trip for anyone who enjoys wandering around a city, exploring its nooks and crannies. Islamic Cairo is a fascinating area of Cairo, with some of the most interesting Egyptian bazaars and mosques in the city. This trip is designed to take anything from half a day to a whole day, depending on how many Islamic monuments you want to enter, and how many alleyways you investigate! The walking tour of Islamic Cairo will take you through Egyptian bazaars such as Muski, the Street of the Tentmakers, and of course the most famous Egyptian bazaar, Khan al-Khalili. This walk through Islamic Cairo also passes by some of the most famous Egyptian mosques, such as al-Azhar, al-Hussein, and al-Hakim. Note that the route sketched out in this trip is only a suggestion – there are many other ways to explore Islamic Cairo. Also, it by no means covers all the Egyptian bazaars, mosques and monuments of Islamic Cairo: that would take weeks. The walking tour of Islamic Cairo will, however, give you some ideas about how to tackle this area of Cairo, and will hopefully provide inspiration for further trips. Note you will be on your feet all day, so should wear footwear you are comfortable walking in. You must remove your shoes to visit mosques, so some sort of “quick-release” sandal would be perfect. As parts of Islamic Cairo are very traditional, and you will be entering mosques, conservative clothing is important. Finally, make sure you have a bottle of water with you: although you will be able to buy it along the way, you can guarantee the one time you are gasping for a drink, there will be no kiosk in sight! read more about Walking tour of Islamic Cairo

Azbakiya Market

Azbakiya Market

  • Azbikaya Gardens, Ataba Metro station
  • Cairo

Azbakiya Market is situated in the crazy market area of Ataba in Islamic Cairo, just next to the Ataba Metro station. It's primarily a second hand book market, though there are also new volumes on offer. You can find everything at Azbakiya Market, from leather bound Qurans and books on Islam, to trashy novels, cook books and books on computing. It's also a good place to pick up language learning books.

The books at Azbakiya Market are primarily in Arabic or English, though you will find other languages. They cost a fraction of what you would pay at a book store, and you can uncover some real old gems. As well as books, you can find vintage film posters, old magazines and comics - including 70 year old National Geographics - and ancient photographs.

Azbakiya Market doesn't just sell books though. As the gateway to Ataba, it also has stalls selling random goods such as clothing, incense, household items, sunglasses and other odds and ends. It's well worth rummaging around, to see what treasures you can dig up!

It's a short walk from Azbakiya Market to al-Muski Street, which leads up to Khan al-Khalili.
read more about Azbakiya Market

Mausoleum of al-Ghouri

Mausoleum of al-Ghouri

  • Al-Muezz el-Din Allah Street
  • Near El-Hussein Square
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo
Attaba

Attaba

  • Attaba
  • Cairo

Attaba is really an area of Cairo rather than a market as such. It acts as a sort of transitional phase between Downtown and Islamic Cairo.

It's an insane collection of different streets and markets that all spread out from Midan al-Attaba. There are areas selling clothing, household goods, rip off watches and sunglasses, leather, paper and wood wholesale, religious pictures, food, electronics... you get the picture!

Attaba is the sort of area where if you can think of it, chances are you'll be able to buy it... as long as you can find it! It's a genuine assault on all the senses, and you just have to be prepared to dive in and get lost. But don't worry, no matter where you are you'll always be able to find a cab, and you'll never be too far away from somewhere selling refreshments either.

The best way to visit Attaba is to take the Metro. If you take the exit marked Azbakiya you can start your trip by visiting the used books market. It's also easy to walk from Downtown, or from Khan al-Khalili. read more about Attaba

al-Muski street

al-Muski street

  • al-Muski Street
  • Cairo

Al-Muski Street is a long street that leads west from Khan al-Khalili in Islamic Cairo all the way to Ataba Square on the edge of Downtown.

It's an interesting area to explore because for the most part it's a proper local Cairo market, selling an assortment of clothes and shoes, blankets, and household goods. There are sections that sell toys, spices, and even fireworks. Towards the eastern edge, nearer to the Khan, you start to encounter stalls selling the same tourist kitsch as Khan al-Khalili itself, though you can often negotiate better prices.

Al-Muski is one of the most famous bazaars in Cairo, and is always heaving with people. Most parts of the street are narrow and cramped, with stalls spilling out onto the pavement and the wares hung overhead almost touching in the middle.

You'll probably have to do a fair amount of pushing and shoving to keep heading in the direction you want to, and keep an eye out for bicycles, handcarts and the occasional motorbike that crash through the fray without pause for anyone else.

Most people explore al-Muski by starting from Khan al-Khalili and heading west. An alternative is to take the Metro to Ataba station, exit and check out Azbakiya Book Market, and find your way from there to al-Muski. You'll probably have to ask the way, and it's kind of hard to see the entrance from al-Geish street, but everyone knows where it is and will be happy to point you in the right direction!
read more about al-Muski street

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

  • Off Hussein Square
  • (Across from El Azhar Mosque)
  • Cairo, 11211

Established in the 14th Century, and in constant use since then, Khan al-Khalili (or more simply, The Khan) is Egypt at its most intoxicating. Cairo has always been an important trade centre, and this tradition continues today in the bustling maze of alleys that forms Khan al-Khalili Bazaar.

The Khan itself is relatively small, and is largely devoted to tourists. There are souvenirs here for every taste and budget: spices, jewellery, inlaid mother-of-pearl boxes and backgammon sets, water pipes, scarves, lamps, delicate perfume bottles (and the perfume to go in them)… you can even get yourself a singing, dancing camel!

Be warned, though, the traders here are black belts at haggling – so be firm, but maintain your sense of humour and enjoy the experience for what it is: the raucous, beating heart of commerce the old-school way.

When the banter gets too much, relax in al-Fishawi Coffee Shop with a water pipe and a strong Turkish coffee. This café has been open 24 hours a day since 1773, and Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz is said to have visited every day up to his death in 2006.

At the east end of the Khan is al-Hussein Square, home to the beautiful al-Hussein Mosque. The western end is bound by Muizz li-Din Allah Street. You can head north to Bab al-Futuh, past Islamic monuments such as al-Aqmar Mosque and Beit al-Souhaymi, or south towards Bab Zwayla and the Street of the Tentmakers. Leading west from Khan al-Khalili towards Ataba is al-Muski Street, a crazy local market that is well worth exploring.

To get to Khan al-Khalili Bazaar, take a taxi to al-Azhar Mosque and cross the road via the underpass. The more adventurous traveller can walk up to the bazaar from Ataba Metro station, along al-Muski.
read more about Khan el-Khalili Bazaar

Al-Fishawi Coffee Shop

Al-Fishawi Coffee Shop

  • El-Fishawi Alley
  • (Khan al-Khalili)
  • Cairo

Located in the heart of Khan al-Khalili, al-Fishawi is Egypt's most famous, and most exciting coffee shop. Al-Fishawi has been open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for hundreds of years, and used to be a favourite haunt of artists and writers such as Nobel prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz.

The so-called "cafe of mirrors" extends along the side of one of Khan al-Khalili's narrow alleyways, and has a gorgeous, carved wood (mashrabia) interior. These days, the sheer volume of people visiting al-Fishawi means rickety wooden tables and chairs spill out in to the alley itself, with the effervescent waiters fighting a constant battle to squeeze the extra bodies in somewhere. The atmosphere is chaotic, with a heady mix of tourists, locals, shop-keepers and trinket-sellers variously drinking, shouting, and pushing their way through the throng.

Al-Fishawi serves the standard range of sodas, juices and hot drinks, as well as various flavours of shisha (water pipe). It's a great place to take a break from shopping in Khan al-Khalili - though don't expect it to be relaxing! read more about Al-Fishawi Coffee Shop

Egyptian pancake house

Egyptian pancake house

  • Midan Hussein
  • tel:2024505871
  • Cairo

The Egyptian Pancake House is situated in on the edge Khan al-Khalili bazaar, and is a good place to eat in the area.

Egyptian pancakes (sometimes referred to as pizzas or pies) are actually known as feteers, and are sort of like a pizza topping stuffed inside a crepe. They are a perfect quick and tasty filler.

The Egyptian Pancake House offers various savoury and sweet feteers, and the best thing to do is to take a selection, and share. They aren't the best in Cairo, but they are authentic, and compared to a lot of the overpriced rubbish served up in the bazaar area, if you do need to eat, this is a good bet.

The spicy sausage feteer is particularly good, as is the honey, nuts and cream. Watch how the chef makes the pastry, slapping it on the counter and swinging it around his head to stretch the dough.

At the Egyptian Pancake House, you eat your feteers sitting at plastic tables and chairs balanced on the busy pavement, with a stream of vendors and the occasional tour bus parading past. This organised chaos, so typical of Cairo, is a big part of the fun! read more about Egyptian pancake house

Farahat

Farahat

  • 126 Al-Azhar Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2592 6595
  • Cairo

Farahat is an unassuming, spit and sawdust Egyptian grill tucked away in an alley near Khan al-Khalili. Whilst their kofta and kebab are good, the real reason to visit Farahat is for the pigeon.

Pigeons have been eaten in Egypt since Pharaonic times, and are still specially raised in coups across the country. The pigeons at Farahat are gorgeous: fat and juicy, flavoursome, and stuffed with cracked wheat. There's really no other way to eat them than to rip the bird apart and suck the flesh off the bones - but don't worry, everyone else is doing the same thing!

The food at Farahat comes served with rice, bread, and salads such as tahina, baba ghanoush, and mixed salad. You also get an oily soup served in a glass to begin with. Although there's a nominal charge for the salads, Farahat is pretty good value, with a pigeon costing 25 LE.

Unsurprisingly, the restaurant gets very busy, and since it's effectively just a few plastic chairs and table stuffed into an alley, you often have to wait to be seated. It's well worth it!

Farahat is a great place to take a break from exploring the markets and monuments of Islamic Cairo. Al-Azhar Mosque and the Wikalet al-Ghouri (home to the Sufi dancing show) are just across the street, and it's easy from here to head south towards Bab Zwayla, or north towards Bab al-Futuh. read more about Farahat

Sabil-Kuttab of Abd El-Rahman Katkhuda

Sabil-Kuttab of Abd El-Rahman Katkhuda

  • Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah Street
  • Suq al-Nahhasin
  • tel:+20 2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo, 11728

The Sabil-Kuttab of Abdel Rahman Katkhuda is a gorgeous Islamic monument situated half way up Muizz li-Din-Allah street. A Sabil was a public water fountain, built to supply free, fresh water to anybody passing. A Kuttab was a school where children learned about the Quran. It was quite common for rich people to build a Sabil-Kuttab when they died. This was believed to be a way to atone for sins, by furnishing the population with the twin blessings of water and education.

The Sabil-Kuttab of Abdel Rahman Katkhuda was built towards the end of the 18th Century, and is one of the prettiest monuments in Islamic Cairo. It's worth paying the entrance fee of 10 LE to go in, because the interior is decorated with beautiful, delicate blue and white ceramic work depicting intertwining floral patterns. There are also lots of richly decorated ceramic vases, bowls and plates displayed around the room. The Arabesque wooden ceiling, decorated with gold gilt, is stunning. You can also go up to the first floor of the Sabil-Kuttab of Abdel Rahman Katkhuda, and have a quick glance at the silver jewellery collection. Interestingly, the stairs are decorated with a selection of mother of pearl-inlaid boxes, and detailed bronze plates: you can see where the inspiration behind many of the products sold in Khan al-Khalili came from. read more about Sabil-Kuttab of Abd El-Rahman Katkhuda

Aqmar Mosque (Al)

Aqmar Mosque (Al)

  • Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Built during the 12th Century, al-Aqmar Mosque was the first Cairo mosque to have a decorated façade. The façade of al-Aqmar Mosque is beautiful, delicate and very finely detailed: a series of arches and niches are carved in to the stone, and look almost like sea-shells. By contrast, the simple minaret looks old, careworn and plain, and looks rather like a rolling pin. The interior of al-Aqmar Mosque is also quite plain: simple marble columns with Corinthian heads, pale yellow walls in the prayer room, and a neat, slate grey mihrab. Most of al-Aqmar Mosque is constructed from a pale grey stone, much of which is finely carved with Arabic calligraphy. This explains the mosque's name: al-Aqmar means "the moonlit", and the stones are said to take on a beautiful shimmering hue at night. read more about Aqmar Mosque (Al)

Beit Al Souhaymi

Beit Al Souhaymi

  • Darb al-Asfar Street
  • Around Bab el Futuh
  • tel:+20 2 285 4509
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Beit al-Souhaymi is part of the lovingly restored Darb al-Asfar district of Islamic Cairo, situated down an alleyway just past al-Aqmar Mosque. Beit al-Souhaymi is a typical example of the family mansions built in Cairo from the Mamluk period all the way to the 19th Century. It costs 30 LE to enter, but is well worth it. You emerge in to a pretty, tree lined open courtyard complete with singing birds, around which the rest of the house is based. In fact, the Beit al-Souhaymi complex actually merges with two other houses to the west. The whole area is a maze of stairs, passageways and hidden rooms, all of which have been restored, and many of which are wonderfully decorated. Spend some time poking around the nooks and crannies, and you will find rooms with colourful marble mosaic floors, vividly painted wooden ceilings, exquisite mashrabia lattice work (to allow the women to observe the goings on in the house without being seen), and ornate mother of pearl chests that have clearly been the inspiration behind many of the souvenirs sold in Khan al-Khalili. You could easily get lost for an hour or two exploring Beit al-Souhaymi; just make sure you finish your visit in the second, even greener, open courtyard, and take a rest before rejoining the hustle and bustle of the outside world! read more about Beit Al Souhaymi

Hakim Mosque (Al)

Hakim Mosque (Al)

  • Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Al-Hakim Mosque was built in the 11th Century by al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, one of Egypt's most insane, and sadistic rulers. He persecuted Christians, Jews, merchants and women, banned or destroyed everything that annoyed him (including all the city's dogs), and would stand on the heads of his enemies whilst one of his slaves sodomised them. He even had a group of women boiled alive in public. It's ironic, therefore, that the mosque which bears his name is so beautiful! Joining the northern walls, al-Hakim Mosque looks quite plain and solid from the outside, with square towers and an odd style of minaret. There is some delicate Arabic stone filigree work on the arches outside. Inside, however, is a huge open courtyard of blinding white/cream marble, with a deep red marble fountain with white veins running through it. It's simple, but actually quite moving. The main prayer hall still has some original wooden beams, but much of the rest of al-Hakim Mosque was restored in 1980 by a group of Shi'ite Muslims from Brunei. The main mihrab is of pale marble, with beautiful gold trim and calligraphy. You used to be able to climb on to the city walls from al-Hakim Mosque, but that has been officially banned. That does not mean, however, that you can't ask the caretakers: for a little baksheesh, they may find that they can discover the necessary keys after all. read more about Hakim Mosque (Al)

Bab el-Futuh

Bab el-Futuh

  • El Muizz El Din Allah Street
  • Facing Al-Banhawi Galal Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

In 1087 AD the original mud brick walls of al-Qahira were rebuilt from stone, to protect the city from the menace of the Turks. This explains why Bab al-Futuh, one of the two remaining north gates, looks more like it belongs at the entrance of a castle than a city. Joining with the city walls and al-Hakim Mosque, Bab al-Futuh consists of two huge rounded castle-like turrets, bristling with ramparts and defensive arrow-slits, and decorated with a finely carved floral arch. Traditionally, the caravans returning from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca would always enter the city through Bab al-Futuh, welcomed by huge crowds of people that had been unable to make the journey themselves. Interestingly, Bab al-Futuh was actually built from masonry scavenged from ancient Egyptian Memphis, as the carvings on some stones that comprise the building testify. read more about Bab el-Futuh

Zizo's

Zizo's

  • 1 Midan Bab al Futuh
  • tel:2025926530
  • Cairo

Zizo's, situated opposite one of the north gates (Bab al Futuh) of Islamic Cairo, is one of the city's best kept secrets.

Founded by colourful owner Abdel-Aziz Mustafa Hamzah (aka Zizo) in the 60's, Zizo's specialises in spicy sogoq (beef sausage) sandwiches, Alexandria style. The sandwiches are incredibly tasty, and dirt cheap, though be warned that they have quite a kick. Zizo's is also renowned for the quality of its offal, and the brains are particularly well regarded. For dessert, grab a halawa bil eshta sandwich (halawa is a sweet made of sesame paste and sugar, and eshta is cream) for the ultimate sugar rush!

Zizo himself still runs this tiny, spit and sawdust-type restaurant, as well as making the amazing pickles that accompany his food. He's a very friendly character, that loves to welcome and chat with his guests.

Zizo's is very near Khan el Khalili, so is the perfect place to refuel after a spot of shopping, perhaps before heading to the nearby cities of the dead. read more about Zizo's

Bab al-Nasr

Bab al-Nasr

  • Off Bab al-Wazir Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

The second of Fatimid Cairo's northern gates, Bab al-Nasr (Gate of Victory) was built in 1087 AD when the old mud-brick city walls were upgraded to stone. Some of the stones used in the building were stolen from the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. Bab al-Nasr looks more like a castle gate than the entrance to a city, with huge blocky towers and defensive fortifications. The doorway is surmounted by a carved stone arch, decorated with calligraphy. The gate's inscription reads "There is no God but Allah; Mohammed is his prophet". Being Shia Muslims, the Fatimids also added the controversial inscription "And Ali is the deputy of God". There is actually a huge cemetery opposite Bab al-Nasr, though there are so many homes built over it that you can no longer really see the tombs. Bab al-Nasr leads on to al-Gamaliyya street, which can be followed all the way down to Khan al-Khalili. read more about Bab al-Nasr

Al Hussein Mosque

Al Hussein Mosque

  • El-Hussein Square
  • tel:+20 (0)2 285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo

Al-Hussein Mosque is one of the most beautiful Cairo mosques. Situated in Midan al-Hussein, next to Khan al-Khalili, al-Hussein Mosque is named after the Prophet's grandson, who was killed by the Umayyads in Iraq in 680 AD during a battle over the succession of the Caliphate. It was this conflict that caused the schism in Islam that gave rise to the two main subdivisions of Sunni and Shia: with the Sunnis recognising the legitimacy of the Umayyad claim, and the Shi'ites maintaining that only a blood relative of Mohammed could be the Caliph. Hussein is revered as a martyr in the Shi'ite world, and although Egypt is predominantly Sunni Muslim, Hussein is still regarded as a saint here too. His head is buried inside al-Hussein Mosque. Technically, the mosque is closed to non-Muslims, though the caretakers will sometimes let you in if you appear respectful enough. Al-Hussein Mosque is elegant and restrained: a huge prayer hall with hundreds of light grey marble pillars, tasteful hanging lamps and chandeliers, and high vaulted ceilings. The mihrab is gorgeous: white, blue, grey and black marble arranged in to traditional geometric designs. The shrine to Hussein is a huge engraved silver affair surrounded by shining white marble, and offset by soft, almost otherworldly green lighting. You will often see pilgrims from all around the Muslim world at Hussein's shrine, walking slowly around it, chanting. read more about Al Hussein Mosque

Wikalet al-Ghouri

Wikalet al-Ghouri

  • Muhammad 'Abduh Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 2285 4509 (Tourist Information)
  • Cairo, 11211

The Wikalet al-Ghouri, in Islamic Cairo, was built in the 16th Century by Qansuh al-Ghouri, the penultimate Mamluk sultan. A Wikala was a warehouse and merchants hostel, and the Wikalet al-Ghouri has been carefully restored. You have to pay 15 LE to enter.

It is very complete, with a huge open courtyard and a maze of stairs and passageways leading around the different floors. There is a marble fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Many of the old rooms have been turned into miniature crafts centres, and it's possible to see workers producing leather ware, jewellery, paintings and so on. The combination of dark mashrabia windows on each room, and the striped marble building materials, is very effective; and although the Wikala al-Ghouri is very simple, it is deceptively beautiful.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evening there is a free Sufi dancing show held in the courtyard. The show begins at 8.30 pm, though if possible you should arrive when the doors open at 6.30 pm, to make sure you get in.

The show is incredible: the dancers spin in place, whipping their brightly coloured skirts into a mesmerising kaleidoscope of patterns. At the end of the dance, they simply walk off without a wobble, as if they haven't just been spinning around in a circle for ages. It's dizzying just watching them!

Wikalet al-Ghouri is just behind al-Azhar Mosque, pretty much opposite Khan al-Khalili and a short walk away from the Street of the Tentmakers.
read more about Wikalet al-Ghouri

Al-Azhar Mosque

Al-Azhar Mosque

  • Al-Azhar Street
  • Opposite El-Hussein Square
  • tel:+20 (0)2 59 3893
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Al Azhar Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in Egypt, if not the whole world. It was established in 972 AD, the first Fatimid monument built in Cairo. Its name means "the most blooming", after one of the prophet Mohammed's daughters.

Al Azhar Mosque has been renovated and extended over the years, and it reflects a number of architectural styles. The large main courtyard is a particular highlight: 275 by 112 feet, made of glistening white marble, and home to hundreds of ancient columns. The five minarets are particularly elegant, and can be seen from much of Cairo. It is possible to climb some of the towers, though they are often locked and you should remember to give the porter a little something for his trouble.

Al Azhar Mosque is also arguably the most significant in the whole of the Sunni Muslim world: it is home to the second oldest University in the world, established in 975 AD, which specialises in all forms of Islamic studies. The scholars of the university are very well respected, and are often called upon to issue fatwas, or religious rulings.

Al Azhar Mosque is situated in the heart of Islamic Cairo, opposite Midan al-Hussein and Khan al-Khalili bazaar. It is best visited by taxi, though you could also walk up from Ataba Metro station. read more about Al-Azhar Mosque

Mosque-Madrassa of al Ghouri

Mosque-Madrassa of al Ghouri

  • In front of al Ghouri Mausoleum
  • Islamic Cairo
  • Cairo, 11728

Qansuh al-Ghouri was the penultimate Mamluk sultan of Egypt, and ruled for the first 16 years of the 16th Century. The area where the southern half of Muizz li-Din-Allah street meets al-Azhar street contains a number of monuments built by him, including the Wikala al-Ghouri, the Mausoleum al-Ghouri, and the Mosque-Madrassa al-Ghouri. The impressive Mosque-Madrassa al-Ghouri has been beautifully restored, its outside decorated with horizontal bands of dun and cream marble, Arabic stonework calligraphy and geometric patterns. The entrance to the Mosque-Madrassa al-Ghouri is an incredibly ornate niche doorway of black and white marble, that looks almost like a strange, fractal mountain range. The mosque itself is not that big, but feels light and spacious nonetheless, and has beautiful marble floors, ornately carved stone walls, and the black, white and dun coloured marble banding so typical of Mamluk architecture. The Mosque-Madrassa al-Ghouri also boasts some splendid stained glass arch windows, a gold coloured carved wood ceiling, and even a large, gothic-looking iron chandelier. As with most mosques, for a little bit of baksheesh you are able to climb the minaret. A thoroughly recommended mosque! read more about Mosque-Madrassa of al Ghouri

Bab Zwayla

Bab Zwayla

  • Sharia al-Muizz el-Din Allah Street
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Bab Zwayla is the only surviving southern gate of the medieval Fatimid city of al-Qahira. Built in the 10th Century, Bab Zwayla is as beautiful as it is imposing: a solid arch framed by chunky round turrets, with graceful minarets piercing the sky. It looks more like the entrance to a castle than to a city! The city wall to the west of the gate is still intact, and you can clearly see the zigzagging battlements with their finely carved decorations. During the Mamluk period, the area in front of Bab Zwayla was used for public gatherings, and dancers and snake charmers performed here. It was especially popular for the macabre entertainment of executions. For a small fee you can enter the western Bab Zwayla gate tower, and climb on to the roof and the city walls. You can even climb most of the way up one of the minarets, and get spectacular views out over Islamic Cairo and the Citadel. Just south of Bab Zwayla, is the Street of the Tentmakers. read more about Bab Zwayla

Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque

Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque

  • Al-Muizz el-Din Allah Street
  • Next to Bab Zwayla
  • tel:+20 (0)2 391 3454 (Tourist Information)
  • Visit website
  • Cairo

Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque is a huge mosque next to Bab Zwayla, that joins with the city walls. From the outside it looks more like a fortress, and is often known as the Red Mosque because of the reddish hue of its pink and brown striped exterior. Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque was built in the 15th Century on the site of the prison that the founder was formerly locked up in, for plotting against the Sultan of the time. The entrance is a huge niche with multicoloured marble geometric patterns and a massive bronze door. Al-Mu'ayyad and his son are buried just before the main part of the mosque, underneath large marble cenotaphs. The main prayer hall is quite ornate, with a mix of marble columns, some of which have Corinthian style heads. There is the standard profusion of Mamluk white, red and black marble arranged in rectangular geometric patterns, as well as lots of beautiful carved wood, especially the finely wrought doors, and calligraphy. The gilded ceiling is in fantastic condition, and there are beautiful, simple stained glass windows in red, yellow, blue and green. The courtyard is huge, with carved walls and impressive rows of columns, and "Fleur de Lis" type crenulations on the tops of the walls. The minarets of al-Mu'ayyad mosque are actually tacked on to Bab Zwayla: they are intricate and delicate, and look almost like a spire-shaped wedding cake! read more about Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque

Street of the Tentmakers

Street of the Tentmakers

  • Souq Al-Khiamiyya
  • Bab Zwayla
  • Cairo

The Street of the Tentmakers is a beautiful covered market that extends a hundred yards or so south of Bab Zwayla. Souq al-Khiamiyya, as the Street of the Tentmakers is also known, is the only covered market left in Cairo, and dates back to the 17th Century.

Walking down the narrow alleyway feels like stepping back into medieval Cairo, with each simple stall hewn in to solid stone walls, and fronted by a wooden shutter. The tentmakers here have plied their trade for hundreds of years, hand-crafting the colourful appliqué wall-hangings that were traditionally used to decorate Arabic tents. With the demise of the nomadic lifestyle, this noble craft is also dying out, but the Street of the Tentmakers is one of the few places in the Arab world where it still survives.

There aren't so many actual tents on sale now, but this is the best place in Cairo to buy wall hangings, cushion covers, bedspreads and the like. As well as more traditional geometric patterns, you can also find pharaonic designs and other pictures. Almost everything here is bold, brightly coloured, and made by hand.

Best of all, although you are only about a twenty minute walk from the bustle of Khan al-Khalili, prices in the Street of the Tentmakers are much lower. As a final bonus, the craftsmen in the bazaar are really friendly, and more than happy to sit and chat about their work. read more about Street of the Tentmakers