Souq el-Goma’a: Venturing to Cairo’s Underground Market

May 14th 2010-

It was just after 9am and the streets of Zamalek were relatively quiet.  The mosque on Marashly Street was jam-packed with men attending Friday morning prayer.  Lime green mats were strewn across the street to accommodate the masses.  Birds fluttered overhead in the trees, the air was warm but not sweltering yet.  Rana and I made our way to the main road that cuts through the island of Zamalek, known as 26th of July Street.  Although the roads were relatively deserted, we had no trouble hailing a taxi.  Rana asked the driver if he knew where Souq el-Goma’a (the Friday market) was.  He gave us a perplexed nod which made me uncertain he knew the way.  I love venturing out on Friday mornings.  A calm descends upon the city of 20 million while everyone takes the morning off.  Travel becomes much more practical and less frantic.

Smoking the Shisha © 2010 Veronica Morriss

The Souq el-Goma’a is located in the Islamic quarter of Cairo, near el-Arafa or the City of the Dead.  This giant necropolis was founded at the time of the Arab Conquest in 642 AD.  Today, it is home to many poor Cairenes who now live amongst the dead in derelict tombs.  As we weaved through the grid of streets around el-Arafa, we passed a group of men idly smoking a shisha (water pipe) in between their cigarettes.  They watched us intently as we drove by, no doubt wondering what we were doing.  Our driver insisted that he knew where he was going, though I was certain there was a faster way.  It is not uncommon to hail a taxi driver who has no sense of direction.  They almost always find a way to get you where you are going, but it is never guaranteed to be direct.  Usually they will ask for directions a dozen times from a walking pedestrian or a neighboring vehicle.  Driving in Egypt is an art.  Pretty much anything goes.  You must be aggressive and you must have fast reflexes.  At any moment a car might come careening at you and cut you off, or worse, smash into you.  I am always astonished at the Egyptians’ driving abilities.  While I often think they are lunatics they never cease to amaze me with their ingenuity.  Reversing on a freeway because you missed your exit is totally excusable.

Once, while I was returning home from work in a minibus during rush hour traffic I witnessed what I consider to be the most astounding driving skills I have ever seen.  Given that our minibus was relatively larger than the other fiats on the highway, our driver swerved between lanes with no regard to the neighboring vehicles.  As we veered into the right lane I noticed in the side view mirror, a woman in a red car behind us frantically waving her arm in protest as we cut in front of her.  This was not unusual so I thought nothing of it.  Then, suddenly, I felt a burst of air at my side.  The woman in the red car had pulled up alongside us, reached over, opened my door and was wailing exclamatory remarks at me while driving 60 miles an hour!  Shocked and in utter disbelief I pulled my door shut and shot a glance at the driver.  He looked at me and shrugged and kept on driving.

A view from above Souq el-Goma'a © 2010 Veronica Morriss

A view from above Souq el-Goma'a © 2010 Veronica Morriss

Our driver knew his way after all.  He stopped traffic on el-Tonsi Bridge to let us out.  I was not sure where we were but Rana motioned me to look over the bridge.  Colorful umbrellas shaded piles of clothes, sunglasses, and toys.  On the other side of the bridge hoards of junk and anything imaginable lay strewn about a pair of old train tracks.  A small boy sat amidst this amalgam of treasure holding a bright pink umbrella.  I was both excited and uneasy to discover what this market had in store for us.

The Pink Umbrella © 2010 Veronica Morriss

Trash or Treasure? © 2010 Veronica Morriss

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Adventure, Egypt, Photos, Travel

Author:Veronica Morriss

Maritime archaeologist, Islamic archaeologist

3 Comments on “Souq el-Goma’a: Venturing to Cairo’s Underground Market”

  1. Mark White
    February 12, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    Haha spending time in Kuwait City I can imagine it’s about the same driving style, excellent description. Love the site!

  2. Veronica Morriss
    February 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    Thanks Mark! Did you see any dhows while you were in Kuwait?

  3. Mark White
    February 15, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    Just the one dhow, if I remember correctly “The Bringer of Good Fortune” docked near the planetarium. Very well kept.

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