Egypt carpet-making village is an unusual tourist attraction

Many of the village homes have been turned into small factories where residents spend their days knotting the materials into carpets and rugs.

A carpet maker in Haraniya. (Amr Emam)

2017/09/24 Issue: 124 Page: 24

The Arab Weekly
Amr Emam

Haraniya - Haraniya, a village in Egypt’s Giza province, was a favourite travel spot of Queen Sonja of Norway, French phi­losopher, playwright and novelist Jean Paul Sartre and many others.

They had good reason to admire Haraniya. With about 6,000 peo­ple, it is a beehive of work that never stops producing some of the world’s finest handmade carpets, rugs and tableaus.

It is unclear why Egypt’s most talented carpet and rugmakers decided to settle in this particular village.

Some attribute their concentra­tion to the many schools and cen­tres founded decades ago to teach locals the art of carpet making. Some schools are more than 70 years old.

“These schools have actually played a very important role in teaching people the art of rug and carpet making,” said Akram Munir, the owner of a carpet and rug fac­tory in the village. “But this does not rule out the fact that the peo­ple living here have a real knack for making art in the form of rugs, carpets and tableaus.”

This high quality of art is re­flected in products displayed out­side homes and in showrooms throughout Haraniya. Almost 90% of the village’s residents work in the craft.

Many of the village homes have been turned into small factories where residents spend their days knotting the materials into carpets and rugs.

There is very little unemploy­ment in Haraniya, an unbelievable contrast to the rest of Egypt, where more than 12% of its workforce of 26 million is unemployed.

All family members — from chil­dren to their parents — have a part to play. Some buy the materials needed from the market; others make the designs while the crea­tive turn them into actual works of art.

But it takes each working group long hours, sometimes days, to produce a piece. Nonetheless, visitors to Haraniya can easily pur­chase magnificent products at bar­gain prices.

Rug prices range from $3 to $20. Carpets cost between $3 and $50 a metre, depending on the type of material used. Tableaus are more expensive, some selling for $3,000.

Most of the designs are inspired by the village’s surrounding envi­ronment. Some feature pharaohs, ancient temples and the pyramids. Others feature scenes from rural Egypt or the river Nile.

Tourist guide Ehab Hamdy said Haraniya gains its international fame from its proximity to a num­ber of important tourist sites, in­cluding the Giza Pyramids and Saqqara which is located only 15km away. The latter, a vast burial site that served as the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, attracts a large number of Egyptians and foreign tourists.

“Tourists visiting these two ar­eas are very keen to come here to take some precious handmade products back home with them,” Hamdy said. “But those who come once are keen to come back be­cause — apart from the very fine products made here and their very competitive prices — the people of the village are very kind.”

The villagers are often seen out­side their homes and carpet facto­ries greeting visitors with a warm smile. Some of them insist on in­viting tourists in for free tea and coffee.

When she visited the village in October 2006, Queen Sonja of Nor­way admired the products and was treated to traditional rural Egyp­tian food, recalls 34-years-old Sa­rah Ahmed, one of the village car­pet makers. She has been working in the craft since she was 9 years old

Ahmed puts all her imagination into the making of rugs.

“True, rug and carpet making is a job, but it is also an art,” she said. “Carpet makers must love what they are doing; otherwise they will not create something that will be liked and appreciated by the cli­ents.”

Ahmed and fellow villagers have hopes of returning their village to its past glories.

“The message I want to deliver to everybody who likes our work is: We are putting our time, effort and imagination into what we do here. So if you pay us a visit you will not regret it,” Ahmed said.

Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.

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