First written by Marwa Atef and 1 others, on Fri, 2008/10/17 - 1:55pm, and has been viewed by 3509 unique users

"One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls"

Strolling down the streets and allies of el Attarine district, those two versus from an old poem could not fit more to a place like el Attarine. The tides of the past and years back of exquisite handcrafts, old flag of Egypt with its green friendly texture , white moon and  three stars, king and queen wedding pictures with a small quotes underneath to wish them well and long live the king, gold garnished French salons and glass wardrobe for memories to celebrate and show,all  makes the perfect sense .A Place where past is appreciated and future is stepping confidently.

Ancient History

"If you stand at the intersection of Nabi Daniel st and El Horreya st, with Al Ahram bookshop at one side and a patisserie on the other, you are at the crossroad of the ancient city. What's now Horreya was then the Canopic Way, extending from the city's Gate of the Sun in the east, to the Gate of the Moon in the west. A little way south of this intersection, along El Nabi Daniel is, the Ptolemaic-era Street of the Soma, is what's believed to be the site of the renowned Mouseion and library where the greatest philosophers, writers and scientists gathered. It is thought these great institutions were on the west side of the road -the right as you head away from Horreya-"Lonely planet, Egypt

Modern history

Back to the early 20th century, El –Attarine district was inhabited by foreigners, mainly Greeks who appreciated art and authenticity of Alexandria altogether with the district they have lived in embraced by the cosmopolitan nature . Different narrators spell different beginnings of souq- al attarin or Al attarin market , some refers to the very early beginning were spices shops traded then, and the definite clue is the district gets its name form (spice traders al-attarin), others saves interesting stories about how the real business in attarin start by fashion-making specially fashionable stylish shoes where you can see old displays ruminants of this very old business type in the souq.

"Life back was different in so many aspects" –said bitterly by John Shamas, a viably old coffee shop owner in el attarin district –"even streets had a different names then - like Foauad street changed to become Abd el Nasser street then Tareeq el Horrya" the Road of Liberty"

"cinema Ramesis –one of the oldest cinema houses in Alexandria – has now become rentable wedding hall , as well as Sayed Darwish theatre which has now became a non functioning property to ministry of culture'

Attarine mosque

This former church was dedicated to Saint Athanasius in 370 and converted into a small mosque at the beginning of the Arab conquest, but by the beginning of the Fatimid era, the mosque was in an extremely bad shape. So, when prince Badr El Din El Gamali arrived at Alexandria to stop a rite against him in 477 hejri, he imposed high taxes as means of punishment. The money collected was used to renovate Attarine mosque and by the end of renovation, there were only two big mosques in Alexandria. The western mosque, built by Amr Ibn El As, and known as El Atique mosque or the mosque with a thousand columns; and the eastern mosque, or the Attarine mosque.

In the early 19 th century the mosque was used as a naval hospital before being destroyed in 1830 and subsequently rebuilt. Khedive Abbas Helmy ordered the renovation, and by the time it finished, nothing was left from the former mosque but the land and the plaque depicting when the mosque was built.


But one thing stated, which stands beyond the shadows of any doubt, that business started by selling old stuff and Junk in areas called soq, el attarine or el attarine market and el seman. Traders from Upper Egypt migrates to Alexandria, which still beholds a street named after them in el attarin district - Souq Al-Sa'ida (the market of the Upper Egyptians), where they use to sell oldies like, clothes, shoes and the one that lasts till now is –Furniture. In the wake of the 1952 Officers' Revolution and foreigners evacuation process started, they would trade their belongings from houses, furniture, paintings and antiques at a very cheap prices before they upped and left, one after another. Their belongings were furniture was either imported from France or their own countries or well crafted Egyptian furniture . all out sold before they left to merchants who kept them for the time to come and their value is now very worthy. Mr Ahmed Abdul el Kader owns a modern furniture gallery in Al –Attarin together with a workshop to design modern furniture narrates Al attarine is an old Alexandrian district like karmouz and bahary sure  there could be many ancient monuments hidden underground and in some basements. Modern furniture shops and galleries open up in al –attarin for the district good reputation in chic old furniture and many shops imitates old furniture that used to be made by good hands of Egyptian crafts men or imported form countries like italy and france 'Mr Ahmed assured that the modern furniture trade is not that good now due to the inflation and even some times the furniture is brought form overseas like Indonesian and Chinese furniture ,yet he had to keep his father shop and quitting his cozy governmental job in order to keep his father's inheritance and from =genearation to another -relied trade, "The number of shops increased in attarine in the last few years as it is a profitable trade.form his point of view, the new furniture and stuff have a range of price to sell for , but the oldies could be sold at a very profitable price to the merchant and for this range of profit is always relative according to the authenticity of the piece.

The core

Business of Al-Attarine district is oldies of furniture and valuable antiques yet this composition is altered by a crossing street Laithy street, sub extension of el attarine district is where chandeliers and light fixtures are being traded. Would you trade this couch and chair for a big sum of money? A question raised to mr Abduel Kader , with a calm smile he replied. Of course not, not even double of it, it is authentic and inherited form my fathers‘ I wouldn’t let it go for money. ”no surprise, It is not about a profitable trade, it is a spirit of the place and appreciation of time which is totally engulfing many of al attarine merchants and business traders and make them hold on to their ancestors trade even if it is not paying well.




Dear Marwa i loved the article, it's very attractivly written, i didn't want to miss a word :) Heba

Sat, 2008/10/18 - 2:22pm Permalink

In reply to by heba.elcheikh

I liked it too. :) But I have to say that photos, edits by colleagues who may have co-authored from the Workshops, and some todo list by the end of the article for what may be added in the future is still missing. Very good result of the Workshop still :) thanks Marwa.

Sat, 2008/10/18 - 3:51pm Permalink
Marwa Atef

Well , I have to mention some thing that this article was collaboratively written by me and Alia Nassar . This is one merit of collabrative writing , that it brings people minds together and closer .Due appreciation for Alia :)

Mon, 2008/10/20 - 1:44am Permalink