Photo Essays

From Blaze to Glaze: Inside Egypt’s Oldest Glassblowing Workshop

From Blaze to Glaze: Inside Egypt’s Oldest Glassblowing Workshop

Hassan Ahmed Ali, popular as Hassan Hodhod, one of Egypt's few remaining glassblowers. Credit: Dina Mansour
Hassan Ahmed Ali, popular as Hassan Hodhod, one of Egypt’s few remaining glassblowers. Credit: Dina Mansour

Text and Photos by Dina Manousr

Deep into the small alleys of “Maqaber El Mamaleek” (known as ‘The City of the Dead’ or ‘Cairo Necropolis’) lies one of the oldest glassblowing workshops in Egypt, and one of the very few remaining. Hassan Ahmed Ali, popularly known as Hassan Hodhod, has inherited the craft from his father and grandfather, who have taken up the craft since the Ottoman Empire.

View of Cairo's Northern Cemetery, also known as The City of Dead where Hassan's workshop is located
View of Cairo’s Northern Cemetery, also known as The City of Dead where Hassan’s workshop is located

Narrating his career as he struggled between glassblowing and boxing, Hassan’s early life was made into the 1990 Egyptian movie “Kaboria”, where his character was impersonated by the late famous actor Ahmed Zaki.

“From a Boxer to Glassblower,” Hassan’s story has attracted plenty of media attention, seeing it circulate locally and internationally. As times passed, Hassan Hodhod’s name grew in association to being the caterer of an ancient craft that is at risk of going extinct.

Hassan Hodhod beside one of the published articles about his story
Hassan Hodhod beside one of the published articles about his story

At an early age of eight, Hassan fell in love with glass-making. His growing zeal and passion for the craft left his father with no other option but to teach him the ways of glassblowing until he mastered them. Soon afterward, Hassan was developing new techniques, and introducing different compounds, bringing about enhanced final products in new dazzling colors and textures.

Hassan’s world materializes within his small workshop where he creates his art alongside his family and his main glassblower Ahmed.

Hassan Hodhod started glassblowing at the age of eight, taking after his father, and grandfather before him.
Hassan Hodhod started glassblowing at the age of eight, taking after his father, and grandfather before him.

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Besides Hassan, Ahmed is the main glassblower at Hodhod's workshop
Besides Hassan, Ahmed is the main glassblower at Hodhod’s workshop
Hassan's wife (left), Hassan (middle), Hassan's son Kamal (right). Besides Hassan and Ahmed, Hodhod's family also take part in glassblowing.
Hassan’s wife (left), Hassan (middle), Hassan’s son Kamal (right). Besides Hassan and Ahmed, Hodhod’s family also take part in glassblowing.
Hassan points at an article that was published about his son.
Hassan points at an article that was published about his son.
Hassan's wife point at her daughter, Fayza's, work.
Hassan’s wife point at her daughter, Fayza’s, work.
Hassan and his daughter Fayza watching the movie 'Kaboria' which depicts Hassan's early life between glassblowing and boxing. Hassan's mother played her own role in the movie alongside Ahmed Zaki.
Hassan and his daughter Fayza watching the movie ‘Kaboria’ which depicts Hassan’s early life between glassblowing and boxing. Hassan’s mother played her own role in the movie alongside Ahmed Zaki.
Hassan's wife with her own work
Hassan’s wife with her own work
Hassan has, for many years, been at the heart of local and international media attention.
Hassan has, for many years, been at the heart of local and international media attention.

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  • Arthur C. Hurwitz

    I had been there in 1989 when I wandered through the Northern Cemetary. I had dabbled in glassblowing before that so I was interest in the process. I knew the English words for the special glassblowing tools but not their Arabic designations. I tried to learn them from the people there. One of them had studied in Greece and was familiar with the English terms. It really was an off the beaten track sort of adventure. I find it nice that everyone in that family does their own glassblowing including his wife. They look so happy and proud!

    • JustaGurlinseattle

      What a wonderful story…
      Thank you for sharing.

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