HANDS ON Traditional Crafts at The City of the Dead in Cairo

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‘Abd al-Megid Said

Abd al-Megid started in this profession of decorating copper and brass vessels with silver inlays as a young boy, and gradually developed his skills in different workshops till he became a master craftsmen. He is one of the permanent residents of the neighbourhood, and has never worked anywhere else. His workshop close to the mediaeval domed tomb of Amir Tashtimur [Link to ‘monument window’, #92] is reached from an alley leading under a covered passage off the square in front of the maqad of Sultan Qaitbey [Link to ‘monument window’, #101]. ‘Abd al-Megid is very fond of his trade, yet he has not taught it to any of his children. He believes that the new generation is too impatient to learn craft, and too focused on material outcomes. They won’t engage in a profession that cannot guarantee much income.

 

His main products are plates, cups and lamps decorated with inlaid silver patterns. First, he obtains from a specialised workshop a bitumen box-like stand that holds the vessel when its decoration is applied. Then, another specialised craftsman does the carving of geometric or floral patterns, and finally ‘Abd al-Megid applies inlaid decoration in silver to the carved design. He deals with a go-between agent from the Khan al-Khalili bazaar who provides him with the raw materials, and then distributes his products to the market at a much higher price than what the craftsman receives. ‘Abd al-Megid believes that the government should prevent the extinction of traditional crafts like his by facilitating direct sales by craftspeople in places like the Khan al-Khalili bazaar.