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

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Muhammad Mahmud

The only jewellery maker in the area nowadays is a silversmith who works primarily for the local market. Objects of his craft are produced and sold in the tiny workshop on the street that passes under the arch of the gate marking the southern limit of Sultan Qaitbey’s complex. This was once the main street of the Sultan’s “royal suburb” in the cemetery, and a major caravan route leading north from Cairo, and ultimately towards Mecca. Muhammad remarks how the rising street level has made it barely possible for cars to pass under the arch of the ancient gate. He accepts as a necessity that many new buildings have been erected in the area, but notices that they have blocked the view of historic monuments. He remembers the neighbourhood as much less populous; the recent rapid expansion of the neighbouring informal residential district of Mansheyat Nasr has brought many new families to the Qaitbey area.

 

Muhammad started to learn his trade in the 1960s under the tutelage of a master called Hagg Ahmad Abdallah in the workshop of Ahmad al-‘Arabi, Muhammad’s brother-in-law of whom he speaks with high respect. It was a big workshop employing 16 creative and trustworthy silversmiths. Even after he established his own shop, Muhammad would sometimes return to help in his brother-in-law’s business.

 

In his workshop, Muhammad primarily makes rings and bracelets decorated with calligraphic motifs. He is confident in his skills and has high hopes for the future. He considers many foreigners as his friends, and he believes that the tourist industry in the country will eventually recover if people are honest and trustworthy.