The building of the Suez Canal, the canal that joins the Mediterranean Sea to the Arabian Gulf, ensuring that cargo boats do not need to go around the Southern Cape of Africa to reach the Middle and Far East and South Asia, shows just how important historically the region is as a centre of trade.
From ancient times to today this trade has ensured that the region is renowned for its souks, which serve a number of purposes from selling essential items to local people such as water and food, to providing souvenirs for tourist and acting as an integral part of the Arab culture.
Many Souks and Bazaars also act as huge outdoor restaurants serving cheap traditional food and drink made freshly for each customer. The open spaces or Squares of the markets turn into entertainment nightspots in the evening amusing local people and visitors alike, with a plethora of snake charmers, fortune tellers, musicians, dancers and whirling dervishes sent into a spinning religious frenzy.
Some of the most prominent markets that lie across the Arab Empire are listed below:
Morocco - Morocco is famous for its traditional markets, and none are more revered than the one in Marrakech, which has the largest traditional souk in the country. The Djemaa el Fna, one of the busiest markets in Africa is a way of life for the locals and a source of amazement for visitors.
The square where it is held is a hive of activity with acrobats, story-tellers, dancers and musicians; alongside stalls selling trinkets, clothes, water, in fact anything at all.
At night food stalls open in the square and the souk becomes a busy open air restaurant.
The market in Tangiers, a busy port city in Morocco, sells traditional goods as well as imports that have been brought to the city on cargo boats.
Fez, the city in Morocco that has given name to the red cylindrical hat that was made there has an important souk, selling all of the usual essentials and souvenirs including the famous hat.
Egypt - The busy Khan el-Khalili is an ancient shopping area in Cairo. The souk (suq in Arabic) here, is one of the oldest in Africa dating back to 1382, and houses a number of stalls and shops in its winding alleyways, many with their own factory or workshop attached.
Turkey - Turkey is renowned for its souks, to which an influx of tourists have increasingly flooded in the last two decades. But in the main ancient souk in Istanbul, not far from the Blue Mosque, tradition is still very much alive. Here cheap fake designer goods are replaced with traditional rugs, trinkets and fabrics.
Arabia - Around the Gulf of Arabia the most famous bazaars still lie in Oman's capital Muskat and Syria. Dubai, although booming, is now more famous for gold and electronics than traditional Arabic goods.
Ethiopia and Sudan - Although these places are more part of East Africa than the predominantly Arabesque North Africa, Sudan and Ethiopia still deserve a mention, both still rely heavily on their markets, which are still a way of life. These are the places to witness one of the elusive (to Western eyes) whirling dervishes.
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