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Khan El-Khalili Addition

Onward and Upward?

ABDALLA F. HASSAN | Egypt Today | September 1998 | p. 93

Shopping in Khan El-Khalili just wouldn’t be the same without getting lost in the maze of back alleyways or venturing up a dark crumbling staircase to see where it led. So when we heard the first escalators were being installed in the 14th century souq, it was time to investigate.


The shiny new Otis escalators are part of a three-story, 150-store shopping center, erected by Hagg Mustafa Azam in the souq’s gold section and scheduled to open in January. Azam scoffs at the thought that tradition is being bulldozed away by modernization. “Our idea was to create a rebirth for Khan El-Khalili,” explains Azam, who has named his minimall “Khan Azam.”


Azam is no stranger to tradition. His family has worked in Khan El-Khalili for 150 years. His forefathers were traders of handwoven rugs and tapestries, and craftsmen of brass. Azam now runs an antique shop on Gohar El-Qaid Street, just a few minutes’ walk from his new center on Khan El-Khalili Street. 


Embellished with colored glass and Fatimid motifs, the shopping plaza was designed to blend in with the traditional style. Azam asserts that the escalators don’t change the area’s flavor. “An escalator is not considered new or old. It is a machine — like a car — which gets people from one place to another.”


It was a near-miracle getting the electric staircases inside an area renowned for its narrow spaces. The 12–by–0.8 meter escalators (four separate moving stairways leading to and from Khan Azam’s floors) could not squeeze through a two-meter-wide alleyway. To solve the logjam, Otis Elevators had to specially order the escalators from Germany in 12 pieces. To facilitate transport and avoid crowds, one escalator at a time was brought into the construction site after 2am.


“Each escalator took one day to be transported, one day to be assembled and one day to be hoisted into place,” explains Salah Abd El-Hakim, communications manager at Otis.  The effort was worth the trouble. Each escalator at Khan Azam can carry 4,320 passengers every hour, says Abd El-Hakim.


Azam hopes that in addition to providing modern conveniences, the shopping center will extend the life of the aging souq. “If Khan El-Khalili can be likened to an old man, he can die. . . .” he says. “But this new project gives him a new heart, a new soul, a new life.”

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