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Al Darb Al Ahmer

Cairo’s Al-Darb al-Ahmar district is a catalog of over 700 years of history. It is rich with medieval Islamic architecture, including the towering minarets of Khayrbek and Um al-Sultan Shaaban mosques, visible above the city skyline. In the dense encroaching environment of one of Africa’s largest cities, Al-Darb al-Ahmar was threatened with demolition. El Darb al-Ahmar, (the red road) in Cairo may not be as famous or as visited as al Darb al-Asfar (the yellow road) and Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, but nevertheless, it retains much of its past riches and historical atmosphere.

The Al-Darb al-Asfar area and Darb al-Ahmar were originally connected as they all formed part of the Qasaba, the main road running from the Northern Gates (Bab al-Nasr and Baba al-Futuh) down towards the Citadel, meeting the Darb al-Ahmar road at the Southern Gate, Bab Zuweila.

Al-Mu'ezz Street, part of the Qasaba is named after the conquering Fatimid Khalif and it was the chief thoroughfare of Islamic Cairo. Over the years, the Qasaba urbanely developed and was divided into sections, each characteristic with different crafts or markets which they were named after.

The area now known as al-Darb al-Ahmar is located just outside the southern walls of the Fatimid palace-city and had originally been cemetery grounds for its residents. In the eleventh century, a period of drought and famine led to the impoverishment of Misr Fustat, and the exodus of most of its population to the area around Cairo. By then, the city had already expanded, and a reconsolidation of the city walls between 1087 and 1092, during a period of civil strife, involved the enlargement of the original walled precinct to incorporate these newly developed urban areas

Facing the ancient Zuweila Gate is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Cairo - Shari Khayyamiya. Khayma means "tent" in Arabic. There, in the Street of the Tentmakers, the ancient craft of making huge tent pavilions, or Suwan, out of beautiful cloth patterns has been carried on for hundreds of years. The Khayyamiya bazaar erected by Ridwan Bey in 1650 is one of the best-preserved examples of a covered market left in Cairo. The building is undergoing restoration work nowadays but not preventing the daily trades and activities of taking place.

This art, inherited from father to son over centuries now has become somehow scarce and faces an uncertain future for only a hundred or so craftsmen still remain in the business. The colourful printed fabrics are mostly put up by the "Farasheen" during feasts, Moulids celebrating religious occasions, weddings and to screen unsightly building work.The geometric designs used in Cairo's tents today come mostly from appliqued arabesques, calligraphy and marble inlay patterns found in the walls and floors of Cairo's medieval mosques.

source1: http://archnet.org/system/publications/contents/4838/original/DPC1550.pdf?1384786915

source 2: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/aldarb.htm

Original research by Lara Iskander.

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