By the twenty-first century the production of tent appliqués can still be found in a small number of Egyptian cities and towns, but the most famous is the Shari’ Khayamiyya (or Suq Al-Khayamiyya). The Shari’ Khayamiyya is situated near the Bab al-Zuwayla, one of the city gates that was erected in AD 1092. The name Khayamiyya comes from the Arabic word khayma, which means ‘tent.’
The Street was established in the mid-17th century by Ridwan Bey al-Faqari (he died in 1656). His work included the organisation of the Egyptian pilgrim caravans going on the annual Hajj to Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia. The preparations for the pilgrimage included the collection of items transported to Mecca, and just before the departure of the actual caravan there was a procession of the pilgrims themselves. Part of this procession passed very close to the Street of the Tentmakers. The thousands of pilgrims and their guards meant that each year it was necessary to assemble together vast quantities of supplies for the feeding and housing of those involved.
The Street was part of a large complex that was created to cater for the pilgrims’ religious and secular needs. The complex included a mosque, offices, a palace for Ridwan, as well as a school and bath house. Among the objects needed for the pilgrimage were tents, tent ropes, banners and flags, as well as leather items such as water bags, leather saddles, even leather shoes and sandals. All of these items were made in the Street and surrounding district. From the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries the Street was also famous for the production of appliqué panels traditionally used to make and decorate mainly urban (as opposed to nomadic) tents.
Nowadays, these tents, or more accurately pavilions, are used for family and official gatherings, rather than for living accommodation. Often the outside of the tent is plain and made of an off-white cotton, but on the inside the tents are lined with intricate geometric patterns in many colours. Sometimes, on very special occasions, panels are used to decorate both the inside of the tent and its outside.
These large appliqué panels used to be made in great ‘tent lofts’ above the suq leading to the Bab al-Zuwayla, on terraces or in the local mosque. By the end of the twentieth century, however, few of these huge panels were being made, as most of the festive tents and pavilions used in Cairo are decorated with printed, rather than hand sewn, designs