At the Khan

The Khan el-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt

Families browse at night in the Khan el-Khalili market in old Cairo, Egypt.

Touring Egypt 33: The Khan el-Khalili in old Islamic Cairo has been a bazaar for centuries. Originally, it was the Cairo terminus for camel trains across the great Sahara desert. Today, completely surrounded by the city of Cairo, it is a warren of fascinating shops, peopled by wonderful, warm, friendly merchants. It is a “must-do” for tourists, whether you seek souvenirs, a fabulous meal, or just a wander through one of the great bazaars of the Arab world.

The Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo is at its quietest at dusk, during dinner time before the shopping crowds arrive.
Main Street
Brass crafters show their fatigue at the end of a very long day in their shop in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo, Egypt (photo release available).
A Very Long Day

A wander through the Khan el-Khalili bazaar can be a marvelous experience. Colorful shops and stalls line every free space throughout the district, in every alley or narrow street. Hawkers try to befriend the shoppers (especially tourists) wandering through the crowded alleyways and narrow streets. Politeness is expected and everyone is friendly. Sometimes, the sale seems almost secondary. Since the shopkeepers are there all day, they are happy to chat and laugh with any passerby — no purchase required. The shopper walking through the crowd is greeted with friendly hails from smiling (sometimes laughing) shopkeepers. My favorite was, “I don’t know what you need, but I have what you want.” Seeing a western tourist emerging from a shop with a purchase in hand, the vendor across the alley may exclaim “My turn!” with a friendly gesture and a warm smile. For the photographer, it is a wonderland of colors, shapes, lights, and willing subjects at every turn.

A spice shop in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo, Egypt, displays its wares loose, in colorful cloth bags.
Brightly colored glass bottles are displayed at the entrance of a shop in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar, Cairo, Egypt.
Bottle Wall

(Top [“Shopping”]: Nikon D200, Nikkor 35mm prime lens, ISO 250, f/2.2 at 1/160 sec. in ambient light, with exposure compensation of -4/3 to permit faster exposure in low light.)

(Center left [“Main Street”]: Nikon D70s, same lens, ISO 720, f/7.5 at 1/30 sec.)

(Center right [“A Very Long Day”]: Nikon D70s, same lens, ISO 1600, f/3.5 at 1/15 sec. in ambient light. Photo permission is available from both individuals in this shot.)

(Lower left [“Spices”]: Nikon D200, same lens, ISO 250, f/2.2 at 1/30 sec. in ambient light with exposure compensation of -4/3 to permit faster exposure in low light.)

(Lower right [“Bottle Wall”]: Nikon D70s, same lens, ISO 1600, f/5.6 at 1/30 sec. with ambient light.)