There are two things you need to know about the Friday Market (Souq al-Gomaa). It’s not just on Fridays and it’s not a market for the faint-hearted. The Friday Market doesn’t offer an easy or necessarily even pleasant shopping experience — it takes a patient shopper willing to go through piles of junk, with an open mind and a wider vision to see the potential in used pieces that may need some work before their beauty and utility is apparent.
Most of the vendors that sell antiques, furniture and bathrooms are present all week, while most of those selling electrical appliances, spare parts and animals are only there on Fridays. So if you want the full variety and go on a Friday, it’s best to go early in the morning as many vendors pack up after prayer.
The market has a dark past — according to folklore, it was started in the Mamluk era by slave dealers, before being turned into an animal market upon the end of the slave trade.
The market is divided into two main sections: the area where animals are sold, which you can access through Khalaa street from under Sayeda Aisha bridge, while vendors with a large variety of junk, antiques and furniture are closer to Tonsy bridge. The area is not very safe and conventional wisdom has it that some of the items that end up in the market are stolen, so it’s advised you take no valuables, go in a group and dress conservatively.
To get to the heart of the Friday Market you have a few options. The first is to take a taxi or a microbus and land at the start of Tonsy bridge on the Autostrade from the Citadel’s side (on Google maps, it’s called Ebageah not Tonsy). Walking under the bridge and parallel to it, you’ll see the first market vendors a few meters ahead.
An alternative option is to hit the market from its very start where animals are sold. For this, you can get off under the Sayeda Aisha bridge on Salah Salem road. The street is called Khalaa.
Walking down this street (or taking a tuktuk) at the end of the animal market leads you to the heart of the Friday Market.
The flow of people carrying caged birds that starts to appear a kilometer away indicates that you have arrived at the Friday morning animal market. Many opt to buy animals here rather than at pet shops as the difference in price is significant.
There’s quite an array of animals, reptiles and birds, including small serpents (LE40), which the vendor told us can be used to entertain children, along with bats (LE150), hawks and mice (LE10). There are also several kinds of fish, as well as cages, tanks and feeds.
It’s emotionally heavy to walk through the market and see all these caged animals amid the frenzy of buyers. The animals are crowded into their cages in the scorching sun and although we find pet stores selling animals generally sad, this was definitely far worse.
Entering the market from the Tonsy bridge side, you can take the more informal route straight ahead when you enter, which includes all the Robabikya (junk) collectors displaying their merchandise on the street in piles. This is of course where you can find the best bargains, but only if you’re feeling confident about your shopping skills.
If you want a more curated collection, you go to the street on the right side of the railway (see map), where the items that are in the best condition have been picked from the vendors and other locations and go for a slightly higher price.
When it comes to pricing, there are no rules. It’s all a game of push and pull. For example, the chandelier in the top right corner of this picture went down from LE900 to LE600 after a couple of minutes of negotiating with the vendor. Heavy bargaining is a must, especially if you are marked as a newcomer to the market, in which case the first prices you will be offered will be exaggerated.
We were most impressed with antique pieces such as cameras, telephones, gramophones, vinyl radios and TVs (putting aside the horrifying realization that items that we were old enough to remember and use have now become antiques).
Some of the antiques come in great shape, but, for a lot of things, you have to be willing to do some work. Take this wooden table in the photo below, for example, which, despite looking like it’s ready to be dismantled and go on to its next life, could, with a simple paint job, make for a lovely coffee table.
It’s not all quirky items and decorative antiques — you can find household essentials such as bathroom sinks, doors, windows, shelves and furniture; you can even furnish your office with chairs that cost would cost LE500 going for around a fifth of that.