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

Glass Blowing Shops

Sophisticated shapes, bright colours, and the reflective surfaces of glass objects seem to belie the fact that ultimately they are all crafted from sand. Egypt excelled in glass production already in antiquity, and in the Middle Ages, unmatched masterpieces were made in Cairo. The art of glass-blowing is still alive in the “City of the Dead”.

 

About 3,500 years ago, ancient Egyptians mastered a sophisticated technique of producing multi-coloured glass objects. However, it was the invention of glass-blowing in Syria around the 1st Century BC that revolutionised glass-making and gave rise to a new range of forms, shapes and uses for glass ware in Roman times, then in the Middle Ages and up to modern times.

 

The workshops in the ‘City of the Dead’ make glass objects from re-cycled material. The women sort the glass by colour: transparent, green, white, and honey-coloured, then crush it almost powder-like before it is melted in the kiln. Blue colour, one of the most distinctive used today, as it was in ancient times, is obtained by adding cobalt compounds to powdered transparent glass. The red-brick kilns, roughly round in shape and nowadays gas-fuelled, are low structures enabling the glass-blowers to work seated on low stools.

 

Their major products are drinking glasses and other tableware, candlesticks, and window panes that are then set in gypsum grilles. They also produce Christmas decorations, which are exported to Europe, the United States and Canada. Most of the workshops’ products are sold to the shops of Khan al-Khalili bazaar, and also to mosques, churches, and hotels. Some are for sale in shops attached to the workshops.