Enter Darb el-Barabra: glistening chandeliers light the narrow alley that is lined with shops. The perfect place for those who seek a good steal, it is a one-stop market that welcomes visitors from all over Egypt – Darb el-Barabra is the destination for happy occasions.
Tucked in a winding alley between Al-Azhar Street and Al-Ataba Square (Cairo), Darb el-Barabra dates back to the 19th century, but opinions have differed on the origins of its name. Some refer its origins back to the Berber tribes, while others attribute the name to the Nubian workers who came to work in Cairo at the beginning of the 19th century.
Besides offering a unique shopping experience, Darb el-Barabra teems with history, as it used to be inhabited by Jews, Greeks, and foreign merchants who are believed to have introduced the chandelier and antiques industry in Cairo. The place also houses a remarkable Catholic church and a deserted Jewish synagogue.
Yet, the area is particularly famous for shops that cater to shoppers of all needs. From bridal necessities and sebou’ sweets and bonbonnieres, to brass lamps and crystal chandeliers, there isn’t a need that Darb al-Barabra doesn’t fulfill. People from all over Egypt visit the goldmine to shop at discounted prices, almost at half of the prices fixed in malls and original retailers.
“I buy the same products here at half the price. I also get ten years’ insurance and I leave completely assured of the quality of the product,” explains bride-to-be Amany Shady to Egypt Independent.
In Darb el-Barabra, the language between buyers and sellers is bargaining. Vendors take into account that the buyers will bargain for the lowest price, and the final price is based on how good the bargaining is. A chandelier that costs EGP 1000 (USD 52) in famous retailers can go down to range from EGP 500 – EGP 700 (USD 26 – USD 36), and possibly lower, depending on the bargained price. Another factor to consider in Darb el-Barabra is that shops compete with each other. The same two shops could be selling the same chandelier, but you can buy it for less at one more than the other.
Still, if someone is not skilled at bargaining, Darb el-Barabra’s prices are considered the perfect steal. And with the ongoing financial crisis, Darb el-Barabra is the go-to for dealing with inflation and high prices.
Although the street can become overly crowded on weekdays, a Friday morning visit can do just the trick. Darb el-Barabra is not only a mecca for those who love shopping, but it remains as a place that testifies to Egypt’s history. It has witnessed Cairo’s different inhabitants throughout the years, and lives today to tell their tales.