Ashmawy and Darb al-Barabra are popular market places specialized in light fixtures. While they are well-known for their attractive low prices, they also offer a surreal atmosphere for a nighttime stroll.
The perfect itinerary requires you to start at Opera Square, behind the “Opera Mall”. Follow the shining light-stores and you automatically get to Ashmawy. If you then leave the neighborhood by Attaba Square and cross the road, you get to Dar al-Barabra on the right-side of Geesh Street.
In both areas, you walk down narrow streets lit by countless lamp stores. You can easily pretend you're taking a stroll in a dark forest dotted with suspended phosphorescent mushrooms. Shopfronts made of several layers of colorful ceiling lights and lampshades are at the core of a marvellous, picturesque urban fairy-tale setting.
Ducking inside the shops, you will find a treasure of diverse ceiling lighs, wall lamps and standard lamps shining at each other and reflecting in the crystals of chandeliers. Less appealing but worth knowing, some stores in Al-Ashawy specialize in industrial and professional fittings such as plugs, wires, and cable trays.
The area does not contain any handy-craft activities and most lamps there are industrially made. According to sellers, most are imported from China. Shop owners usually order stock directly from major markets such as Hong Kong's and import in containers through the Suez Canal. Some items are however produced in Cairo's satellite cities, such as 10th of October City.
Why, when and how do these districts specialize in lighting devices? Residents do not seem able to answer. Not even the elders. “I was born here and as far as I remember people have always been selling lamps and chandeliers,” says Mohsen Abdel Aziz, a ceiling-lamp seller in his sixties.
However, some shopkeepers remember when the shift to importation took place. So does Mohammed, who has owned a chandelier shop in Dar al-Barabra for more than twenty years. “Seven to eight years ago everybody turned to Chinese imports. I am one of the rare remaining ones who only sell Egyptian-made chandeliers,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, the choice of international trade and East Asian products is motivated by economic reasons. With very low purchasing prices, sellers can set up much higher profit margins. “I make a 100 percent profit on Chinese items. If I sold Egyptian lamps, it would rise to a 50 percent benefit maximum,” says Ahmed, a young shopkeeper.
As a consequence, Egyptian-made chandeliers have increasingly become synonymous with quality lamps. While imported items are mostly made of plastic and low quality metal, Egyptian chandeliers like Mohammed’s includes crystal pieces – sometimes of the famous “Asfour Crystal” kind – Limoges porcelain bodies and brass or gold-plated branches.
The luxury positioning of these business explains its prices: from LE900 to LE20,000. In comparison, the average price for imported items is LE160.
It is very likely that exposing your eyes to Ashmawy’s and Darb al-Barabra’s lamps will make you want refit your lighting. And whatever your standards are, you'll be sure to find a good deal in the area.