Updated date:

Khan El-Khalili, Egypt: History and Description

Eman is a writer and engineer. She loves to write about historical places in Egypt as well as many other topics.

Khan El-Khalili

Bab al-Ghuri, Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, Cairo, Egypt.

Bab al-Ghuri, Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, Cairo, Egypt.

Khan el-Khalili is a famous bazaar in the historical center of Cairo, Egypt. The site of the Khan (an inn) was originally the burial place of the Fatimid caliphs known as the Za’afran Tomb, which was part of the Fatimid Eastern Palace (358 AH / 968 AD). The bazaar was established as a center of commerce in the Mamluk era (1250 AD-1517 AD). Khan el-Khalili market is considered one of the main attractions in Cairo for tourists and Egyptians alike. It is also home to many Egyptian craftsmen and workshops loving to produce handicrafts and souvenirs.

History of Khan El-Khalili

In 969 AD, Cairo was founded as the capital of the Fatimid caliphate which was an empire that covered a large part of North Africa, parts of the Levant, and the Hijaz. Gawhar al-Siqilli, the leader who included Egypt for the Fatimids, ordered the construction of a large palace complex to house the caliphs, their families, and state institutions. Two palaces were eventually completed: one east (the largest one) which included Saffron tomb and one western, between them an important square known as Bayn al-Qasrayn.

In (786 AH / 1384 AD) during the reign of the Mamluk al-Zahir Barquq. The Mamluk Amir Jaharqas al-Khalili founded an inn (khan) on the site of the Za'afran tomb. In (917 AH / 1511 AD) Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri destroyed Khan el-Khalili and built small hotels in addition to warehouses and shops known today as Cotton Caravanserai.

There were three main entrances to Khan el-Khalili but only one gate was left; Bab al-Ghauri is located at the western end of the road leading from the Husseini Shrine to the interior of Khan el-Khalili.

Khan el-Khalili by Filippo Bartolini - Italian, 1861-1908 Oil Painting.

Khan el-Khalili by Filippo Bartolini - Italian, 1861-1908 Oil Painting.

Bab al-Ghuri is similar to the gates leading to the Mamluk mosques and schools, especially those that were built during the period of the Sultan al-Ghuri, and a good example is an entrance to al-Ghuri mosque (909 AH / 1504 AD). This entrance consists of an arch with beautiful geometric decoration carved in stone. The arch decorated with geometric designs in white and black marble, and in the middle is the blazon of the sponsor. Above the entrance to the portal is an inscription that includes the name and titles of the sponsor. The portal is crowned by a tri-lobed arch decorated with Muqarnas, which contains beautiful floral motifs. There are three carved wood windows between the arched opening of the gate and the tri-lobed arch.

Khan el-Khalili, with its distinguished location and large area, represented the heart of the commercial movement in Cairo during the Ottoman era (1517 AD-1882 AD). Commercial activities included many and varied commodities, each of which took a specific place in the Khan, and among the most famous of these commodities were fabrics, coffee, spices, copper, rugs, burlap, henna, and many food items. The slave trade added a special character to Khan el-Khalili and effectively contributed to the revitalization of the commercial movement. In addition to the presence of other types of rare commodities that were sold in Khan el-Khalili exclusively and imported from other countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, on top of which were gold, silver, pearls, precious stones and various types of animals and birds that were unparalleled in Egypt.

Many of the figures of the Egyptian Renaissance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were frequenting cafes in the Khan el-Khalili area while they were still students.

Khan el-Khalili and surrounding areas influenced the Egyptian prominent figures. For example, the Egyptian political leader, Sa'ad Zaghloul (1860-1927), expressed how these areas around Khan el-Khalili affected during his studying days in al-Azhar. Also, the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, has a novel named Khan el-Khalili. In 1967, the novel turned into an Egyptian drama film and entered the 5th Moscow International Film Festival.

Mashrabiya (Windows) of Al-Suhaymi House

Bayt Al-Suhaymi (House of Suhaymi) is an Islamic themed house and museum in Cairo, Egypt. It was originally built in (1058 AH / 1648 AD). The house is included windows(mashrabiya) are made of carved wood.

Bayt Al-Suhaymi (House of Suhaymi) is an Islamic themed house and museum in Cairo, Egypt. It was originally built in (1058 AH / 1648 AD). The house is included windows(mashrabiya) are made of carved wood.

Description of Khan El-Khalili

Khan el-Khalili, paved with black basalt stone, extends from the front of the al-Hussein Mosque facing the al-Azhar Mosque to the Salihiya neighborhood, which ends with branches of streets and corridors. The best known and nearest of which is al-Muizz li-Din Allah al-Fatemi Street, which contains 112 Islamic monuments and followed the UNESCO.

The most striking thing in Khan el-Khalili is the arabesque-designed house facades, as well as the street-facing carved wood windows that reflect Fatimid and Mamluk styles.

Inside Khan el-Khalili, alleys containing adjacent shops are lined with. Each shop has a group of skilled craftsmen making handicrafts. Like copper engraving, carpets, tents, glass lamps, and woodwork in forms that combine creativity and precision.

Khan el-Khalili includes more than a quarter, the most famous of which is al-Selsela market, a quarter of al-Selhdar market, and a quarter of al-Sumatia. In addition to a group of agencies such as the Iron Agency, and the Cotton Agency.

A quarter of al-Selhdar contains a number of different industries, such as imitated basalt, alabaster artifacts, papyrus, hieroglyphic inscriptions, and stained-glass industries.

A quarter of al-Selsela is characterized by silver, gold, diamond, and precious stones such as agate, emerald, turquoise, and amber, which go into the jewelry industry.

Among the features of the Khan is al-Fishawi Café, which Haji Fahmy Ali al-Fishawi established in 1797 during the Ottoman period. He bought the stores next to the café transforming it into a large three-room café. One of the café rooms is lined with wood inlaid with ebony, and it is full of antiques and Arabic sofas covered with beautiful leather, and the tools are made of silver and crystal. That room was dedicated to King Farouk (the last king of the family of Muhammad Ali) and the chief guests of Egypt. The second room is decorated with pearl, wood, ivory, arabesque, and the sofas are covered with green leather. As for the third room, it was intended for the people of the popular neighborhoods in the first half of the twentieth century.


Discover Islamic Art - Virtual Museum - monument_ISL_eg_Mon01_18_en.The Discover Islamic Art Virtual Museum and Virtual Exhibitions present the Islamic heritage of the Mediterranean basin, alongside collections of Islamic art hosted by the participating museums, with a Database of 1850 objects and 385 monuments.

file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/activity-663-3.pdf. UNESCO World Heritage Centre - Management of World Heritage Sites in Egypt.

© 2020 Eman Abdallah Kamel


Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on October 12, 2020:

Thank you, Umesh Chandra, for reading the article and comment. Egypt is full of history and culture. I appreciate your visit.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 11, 2020:

Nice compilation and good presentation. For many people Egypt means a mysterious country. We see it more in movies where some scenes are filmed in those locales.

Liza from USA on September 12, 2020:

You're most welcome :)

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on September 12, 2020:

Thank you very much, Liza. Old Cairo is full of Islamic monuments that are worth visiting as well as studying. Whoever visits it once wishes to return to see it again. Khan El Khalili is a special place full of goods of a special nature ... I am really very glad that you enjoyed the article.

Liza from USA on September 11, 2020:

Every time I watch the Food and Travel channel with the host goes to a bazaar or market in Egypt I wish I were there. It was mesmerizing. The first photo of the Khan El-Khalili market looks absolutely amazing. Thank you for sharing the history of it, Eman. I have to take some time to read the link you've shared too.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on August 20, 2020:

Thanks, Chrish. I am really glad you liked the article:)

Chrish Canosa from Manila Philippines on August 19, 2020:

I'm gonna need this informative proofreading article in my upcoming online class . Lots of (pages of history will be needed) thanks a lot for the effort writing this article . I hope you have a fantastic day!

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on July 24, 2020:

Thanks, Liz. The Old Cairo area is also called the Fatimid Cairo or al- Mu'izz Cairo, which contains many Islamic monuments, most of which are belonged to UNESCO. This area contains many old houses and mosques that were followed by a school. It also includes fine Islamic arts. It is an area worth seeing and studying too.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 23, 2020:

This is a very interesting and informative article. It is packed with historical details and fascinating illustrations.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on July 23, 2020:

Thank you very much, Linda. Indeed Khan el-Khalili is an interesting place worth studying and visiting.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on July 23, 2020:

It is my pleasure Ankita. Thank you very much.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on July 23, 2020:

Thanks, Lorna. I also love history and Khan el-Khalili worth studying. I am really glad you liked the article.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 22, 2020:

The bazaar sounds like a fascinating place to visit. Thank you for sharing the interesting facts and photos, Eman.

Ankita B on July 22, 2020:

It was an interesting read Eman with excellent organisation of the content. Thank you for sharing.

Lorna Lamon on July 22, 2020:

I really enjoyed this interesting and informative article Eman. History has always intrigued me and you brought this famous bazaar alive with your vivid descriptions and wonderful photos. Thank you for sharing.

Related Articles