CAIRO (XINHUA) – Overlooking Saqqara necropolis, some 20 kilometres from the Giza pyramid complex, Saqqara village lies as a tourist attraction with its unique handmade rugs and carpets that represent a characteristic handicraft of the locals for decades.
“All the carpets here are handmade. We’ve boosted the popularity of Egyptian carpets and now they compete with the Iranian and Turkish ones,” said manager Khaled Mekkawy of a carpet school in Saqqara.
The carpet stores in Saqqara are referred to as “schools” because they provide training and jobs for children during the summer holidays as well as for housewives to use their spare time in a useful and profitable traditional craft.
A typical “carpet school” in the village is divided into two parts, one for carpets weaving on looms and another for exhibiting products of various sizes, colours, and designs.
The exhibited carpets and tapestries cover all the walls and columns in the store, including symmetrical works, ones with drawings and designs of pastures and sceneries, and others with pharaonic images like the golden mask of King Tutankhamun, the bust of Queen Nefertiti, and more.
Mekkawy pointed out that customers, whether Egyptians or foreigners, take a tour of the weaving workshop first and then explore the exhibition section to select the rugs or carpets they like, noting that his carpet school, established in 1976, is one of the oldest in Egypt.
“A carpet may last for 400 or 500 years, or even longer. It is why the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo has carpets dating back to the Mamluk rule of Egypt over 700 years ago,” the carpet school manager told Xinhua.
At the school’s workshop, several horizontal and vertical looms are installed with weavers working on them, including men, women, boys, and girls.
Hamada Ibrahim, 40, was busy teaching a group of women, girls and boys how to draw a simple picture with wool or silk thread on a vertical loom.
“We teach children to do something useful during the summer holidays. We even send looms to some married women who would like to work from home and improve their income to help with providing for their families,” Ibrahim, who has been a carpet weaver for 30 years, said.
His trainees include his 12-year-old son Mahmoud, who loves weaving in his summer holiday. The boy was weaving fast on a vertical loom to work on a carpet patterned with King Tut’s iconic gold mask.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the workshop, a group of young ladies was working on other carpets and tapestries, also using vertical looms.
Fatma Ahmed, 29, was carrying out a tapestry with a drawing of a tree and birds standing on its branches. She said that she worked for the carpet school before she got married, and she returned to the school after several years as a housewife.
“I enjoy working here with my colleagues and we’re content with our work. It is also helpful financially,” Fatma told Xinhua in front of her loom.
At another nearby carpet school, supervisor and deputy manager Mokhtar el-Badrashiny said that they have a good turnout of foreign customers, noting that most foreign customers come from the United States and Latin America, in addition to some Italians.
“Before COVID-19, we had many Chinese customers. We hope the pandemic will be over soon and we can see again more visitors from China and other countries,” the carpet store supervisor told Xinhua.
A group of Brazilian tourists was taking a tour of the exhibition section of the store after watching the weaving process in the workshop downstairs.
“I was impressed how children are learning weaving carpets and creating beautiful works from threads,” said Eline Gomes Viegas, noting it was her first time visiting Egypt.
“The village is surrounded by archaeological sites and the traditional handmade carpets make it even more unique,” she added.
Meanwhile, an American couple was selecting small-sized rugs as souvenirs from Egypt.
Retired telecom employee Brad Wicks from California described Saqqara as “amazing” and “a very interesting place to be”.
“I think the quality of the rugs is outstanding,” the American tourist told Xinhua.