Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Qaysaria: between now and then

Erbil/ Mariwan F. Salihi
“One thousand Dinars!” shouted the first vendor, looking tired in his yellow shirt, while advertising a shirt. “Two thousand Dinars, just for you my lady”, shouted the second vendor, a bald young man in traditional Kurdish clothes, even louder, trying to get more attention for the same shirt. This is one of several traditional ways of selling inside Erbil’s ancient “Qaysaria Bazaar.” It lies in the heart of Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital, close to its famous citadel.
The Qaysaria dates back to the 12th century, according to one old shopkeeper at the bazaar.
Meanwhile, many modern and large shopping-centers (malls) have opened here recently throughout the city. However, Erbil’s Qaysaria still tops all other shopping malls in town. It attracts buyers from the whole society, including rich and poor, and many tourists from outside the region. Many of them are also visiting the bazaar for its beautiful and ancient architecture.
The Qaysaria is an extensive bazaar and includes many sections: Jewelers: making it the largest of its kind for buying and selling gold in the city. Carpenters: selling carpets of all kinds and sizes. Spices: selling spices, herbs and all kinds of oils from the whole world. Tinsmith: making and selling all kinds of souvenirs for home purposes and tourists visiting Erbil. Cloth merchants: selling all kind of clothes, usually for women and teenage girls. Butchers: selling all kinds of halal meat. Shoemakers: the making and selling of mostly traditional Kurdish shoes, called locally “Kalash”.
Kurdish culture is famed since ancient times for its handmade crafts, which passed from generation to generation. One of these handmade crafts is the “Kalash”, or Kurdish shoes. These male shoes are part of the Kurdish traditional dress, worn during special occasions and festivities throughout Kurdistan.
Now well experienced in the market, Ahmad Abdullah, a 55 year-old store owner, says, “store owners at the Qaysaria have many crafts on sale, but sometimes only certain crafts are popular. The Kalash is very popular during Kurdish festivities, including Newroz, the Kurdish New Year. The reason is that it’s part of the Kurdish traditional dress.”
Ari Mohammed, 28, sells clothes and praises the bazaar for its cheap prices.
“Prices at the Qaysaria are less than in shopping malls. The main reasons are that rents are higher there and the qualities of products are much higher than ours, because they include many international brands. They also pay high transportation costs, unlike us at the Qaysaria,” he said as he was receiving costumers to his small shop.
Costumer Badria Luqman said that since her childhood the only place to go for shopping inside the city was the Qaysaria. “Now I am 75 and still do my shopping here. It has become a tradition for me. The newly built shopping centres are good for today’s generation; there they can find all their needs.”
A 23 year-old student Sarah Abdullah also enjoys shopping at the Qaysaria.
“I prefer to buy clothes and accessories from here, because they’re cheaper. I can buy a nice shirt here for 10,000 Dinars, but it will cost me at least the double in any other shopping mall.”
But also, this historical site lacks signboards guiding people their ways in and out.
“Where’s my mom”, cried Lana Jabar a four-year-old girl who was lost and looking for her mom.
One entering the Qaysaria will be confused by the labyrinth of walkways. Many people here, especially small children, lose their way. It’s just a reminder of the “Grand Bazaar” in Istanbul and the “Khan Al-Khalili” in Cairo. Even in these huge, world famous ancient bazaars many people get confused with the criss-cross of its walkways. Many people would like to see signboards to ease their journey inside this huge market.
The history of the Qaysaria is not very clear to many historians today. Most shop owners say that the ancient bazaar was built by the Jews in the 12th century. Erbil, and most of Iraq, had a large Jewish population until the foundation of the State of Israel. Many of them were forced to leave Iraq around the 1950’s. Most Jews in Iraq were rich merchants. Other people say that the Qaysaria was built by the Ottomans, who ruled the region for centuries.
Kurdish decorations and styles are visible in the Qaysaria since ancient times. This is especially visible during religious and national holidays, including the holy month of Ramadan and the Islamic New Year. During these periods the bazaar sees a huge increase in buyers and sellers of all kinds of products. They come from all over the city and the surrounding towns and villages. The Qaysaria is the source of income for hundreds of families in Erbil.
Erbil is Kurdistan’s capital city, Iraq’s most stable and secure region. It’s the city of the famous citadel and the Mudhafariyah (Kurds call it “Choly”) minaret. The Qaysaria is probably its third other landmark.

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