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MARKET (SOUK) SHOPPING:
Historically the indigenous people used to get
together at a central place/square for trading purposes. Silk route travelers
from Arabia during their trade visits called the Trade Center as Souk (in
Souk is a typical representation of the Silk
Route trade culture. An open area accommodating hundreds of vendors offering
spices, fruits, nuts, roots/herbs and live stock (sheep, chickens, pigeons),
household items, clothing, jewelry, etc. Souk intoxicates its visitors with the
fragrance of spices.
It is fascinating to see almost every one
selling very similar products yet sitting right next to each other and competing
freely. A good demonstration of fair-trade and open market concepts which the
post-modern world now claims to be one of it's marvels.
People come and shop with their vendors of
preference and choice. A store is known by the vendor and his family. No store
puts up any signage to draw customers. Same customers and vendors are dealing
with each other through generations. Their relationship is based on pure
mutually respected trust. Neither of them abandons each other for material
reasons except when the trust is violated. Vendors and Customers both establish
their relationships over time for the honesty in their transactions. There was
neither any credit bureau then nor now. It all works well through the word of
/ ARGILE / HUBBLY BUBBLY / WATER PIPE:
The History of Sheesha
from Egypt call it Sheesha while others from Syria, Lebanon & Jordan call it
Argile. The equivalent of Sheesha in the West is Hubbly Bubbly or Water Pipe and
it is Hookah in South Asia.
Ancient people on every continent made use of
smoke long before the Sheesha came along. Now with Sheesha smoking is smoother
than ever. Sheesha didn't really catch on until tobacco was introduced to the
Middle East. Prior to that, there wasn't much else there worth smoking. In the
17th century, however, tobacco made its way to the Middle East and Sheesha
smoking became popular. Unlike their Western counterparts, the Turks had no
interest in smoking plain tobacco. They mixed it with fruit, molasses, and even
honey so the smoke was sweet and flavorful.
Breads: Muslims from Afghanistan have domesticated their bread making
skills. Tandoor is part of the Saudi vernacular. Bread is known as "Qoobz
or Qubbaz" in Saudi Arabic. It is generally flat & comes in varied
sizes. Some breads also comes with sesame and poppy seeds. A fresh hot bread
with a bowl of authentic Yemeni "foool" or a "shawarma" to
go, is an absolute delight & halal too!
Mixture of beans are boiled over a long period of time on a sustained moderate
flame. Traditional pots have a large round base with a small opening mouth to
keep the steam within. In Saudi Arabia, most of the foool cafes are owned by
people from Yemen. A bowl of Yemeni foool with a dash of spices & some
virgin oil is a treat. People eat this with fresh tandoor Afghani bread although
Pilaff is quite popular and cooked often. To show the love and respect for the
guest the host slaughters a goat or two or more. Pilaff's main ingredient is
rice and either meat or chicken with raisins and nuts (almonds, pistachio,
the meal is served in one big platter. Hosts & guests sit together around
the platter in a circle and eat with hands. The dining process is simple. You
pick some rice from the closest side of the plate to you and work your way. This
age old tradition demonstrates & fosters brotherhood (Akhuwwa). This custom
prevails across the gender lines. Men and women dine separately unless in a
family. Arabs' hospitality is legendary. They invite everyone in the vicinity.
Rich and poor all sit together and eat from the same plate, and this is a norm
and not an exception in their culture.
is common courtesy and decency not to criticize the food and their customs.
Hosts, may they be a family, restaurant personnel or tour guides & drivers,
may think the tourists are not civilized. Remember Arab culture is diametrically
opposite to the Western pop culture and is tens of times older than the birth of
what is now known as the U.S. of A.
OF OLD MAKKAH
With the birth of Islam
in the seventh century, the pilgrimage, or hajj, took on an entirely new
meaning, and the flow of pilgrims to Makkah expanded. Some pilgrims decided to
settle permanently in the Holy City, building their houses in the valley
surrounding the Kaba. The residential area of Makkah continued to grow,
fueled by newcomers every year. Later immigrants built their houses on slopes
and hilltops, due to a shortage of land in the valley and the problem of
seasonal flooding, in those days, the height of buildings did not exceed two
During the Ottoman
period (1517-1924), housing and other construction in Makkah came under the
influence of Turkish architecture. Palaces, forts and large houses were built on
the hills and in the valleys of the Makkah area. Buildings gradually grew
taller, due to advances in construction technology and the land storage around
the Kaba, and in time reached seven stories. After 1924, the traditional
Makkan house was somewhat influenced by Western architecture, but remained
relatively unchanged until the appearance of reinforced concrete as a
Muslim architectural style in the Middle East – North Africa, Syria central
Arabia and central Turkey - was characterized by one or two story houses built
around a central courtyard house in Jeddah, Yanbu, Madinah, Taif or Makkah.
In the 10th century,
Shams al-Din Abu 'Abd Allah al-Muqaddisi described Makkan houses as "built
of black, smooth stones and also of white stones, but the upper parts are of
teakwood and are several stories high, whitewashed and clean."
In the 12th century,
Andalusian geographer Ibn Jubayr commented on the flat roofs of Makkah's houses:
"We passed the nights on the roof of the place where we stayed and
sometimes the cold of the night air would fall on us and [we] would need a
blanket to protect us from it."
Spanish traveler 'Ali
Bey al-'Abbasi, who visited Makkah in 1807, wrote that "the houses are
solidly built with stone, they are three and four stories high, and sometimes
even more. The fronts are ornamented with bases, moldings and paintings which
give them a very graceful appearance.... The blinds of the balconies are not
very close, and holes are cut besides in different parts of them. The roofs form
terraces, surrounded with a wall about two meters [seven feet] high, open at
certain spaces, which are occupied by a railing of red and white bricks placed
symmetrically, leaving holes for the circulation of the air. All the staircases
are narrow, dark and steep. The rooms are well-proportioned, long, broad and
lofty and have beside the large windows and balconies, a second row of smaller
Many other visitors
described similar structures. Actually, not a single house survives from al-Muqaddisi's
or Ibn Jubayr's time but the
descriptions still apply to the existing traditional houses in Makkah. Clearly,
the internal configuration of the traditional Makkan house has suited the
long-term requirements of the city and its inhabitants.
From the street, one
enters the house through an elaborate doorway and steps into an entrance hall
known as a dihliz. The ground or entrance floor is reserved for men, and
one never risks meeting an unveiled woman there. The upper floors belong to the
women, and a visitor cannot go upstairs without an escort. The entrance hall
floor is covered with sand or a kind of mortar called tubtab. On one or
both sides of the entrance hall are raised benches where the master of the house
sits and receives casual visitors, drinks tea with them and smokes his water
pipe, or shishah.
On either side of the
entrance hall - sometimes on both sides - and raised above floor level, is an
important sifting room called the maq'ad, which serves as a business
office, or reception room for intimate friends. It may also function as a
sleeping room during hot summer afternoons, or as a storeroom for merchandise or
luggage during the pilgrimage season. Even in the most modest of houses, social
activities play an important role; therefore the maq’ad is usually
spacious, well-decorated and with high-ceiling.
In older, wealthier
houses, the maq’ad is replaced by an even more luxurious room known as
the diwan, with carpets on the floor and cushions for sitting or
reclining along the walls, where the men meet for receptions, take their dinner
and talk business. In addition to these
rooms, a water closet, called bayt al-ma' or taharah, is also
found on the entrance floor.
The main sitting room,
or majlis, overlooks the street. Its floors are covered with carpets;
along the walls are low, firm cushions to sit on and recline against, like
couches without legs or frames. Cupboards with ornamented wooden doors adorn the
walls. Windows with decorated wooden shutters - mashrabiyyahs or rawashin
- project out over the street. To enter the main sitting room, one must pass
through a smaller room called the suffah. Another room, a storage chamber
known as the khizanah, adjoins the majlis as well.
The majlis is a
multi-purpose room, according to the changing needs of the family: a sitting
room during the daytime, a place where women gather when men guests are
downstairs in the maq'ad or diwan, a bedroom at night or a rented
room for pilgrims during the pilgrimage season. The adjoining khizanah is
used either as a storeroom for extra mattresses, pillows and blankets, or as a
kitchen when rented out to pilgrims. Large houses have another small sitting
room known as the mu'akhkhar, which overlooks the back street or opens
onto a minwar, an air shaft that admits sunlight. Finally, there is a
toilet on every floor, either on the staircase landing or opening off the living
The floors were made of
wooden logs laid about 30 to 40 centimeters (12 to 16") apart soon after
the lintels of the mashrabiyyahs were set in place. Palm-frond ribs were
laid diagonally across the beams, in two layers, and tied to the beams. A layer
of closely woven palm matting was then laid over the ribs and covered with a
layer of sand and loam, on top of which was applied a flooring cement about 15
centimeters (six inches) thick. Terrace floors were constructed the same way,
with a thicker layer of plaster cement and a slight outward slope to drain away
rainwater. Wooden waterspouts, often hollowed out of palm trunk, kept the
rainwater away from the walls. Terrace walls were made of decorative brick, as
Despite the scarcity of
good timber in the area, the traditional houses of Makkah are noted for their
beautifully decorated woodwork. Imported teakwood was used mainly for mashrabiyyah
or recent examples of which may cover the whole facade of a building - as
well as for elaborately carved exteriors doors and for latticework called shish,
found in window openings or as internal partitions.
The oldest type of mashrabiyyah
is a large window that projects out over the street and consists of a base, a
central section and an upper section. The supporting base projects from
the wall onto which the actual mashrabiyyah is built. It is supported by
wooden brackets and is sometimes with beautiful floral paintings and carvings.
The central section -
the true mashrabiyyah – bears the shutters and is the most heavily
decorated. The shutters and the fixed parts have beautifully carved panels of
wood with geometric or floral patterns. The upper section projects out even
farther than the central part, to provide shade, and bears floral patterns or
In later examples of mashrabiyyah
covering entire facades, the base of each segment, corresponding to one story of
the building, is ornamented with floral or geometric carvings and the shutters
are louvered to provide air circulation.
Windows - shubbak
in Arabic - are related to mashrabiyyah in design, but are less complex.
The base paneling bears geometric or floral patterns, the shutters are blinds in
older types and made with louvers in more recent versions, and the top portion
features latticework grilles to ventilate the room.
The street doors of
Makkan houses are made of plain teakwood paneling with beautiful geometric or
floral carvings. The right-hand door panel has a smaller door set into it for
the daily use of the inhabitants, since the main doors, generally surmounted by
arches in the wall, are opened only to admit large loads. Internal doors and
cupboard doors are of lighter construction and sometimes carved or decorated.
grilles served to circulate cool air and at the same time ensure privacy.
Normally employing crisscross, notched or slatted patterns, the grilles were
often simply small rectangular insets in a larger pattern of panels, but were
sometimes large enough to cover a whole window or the top of a mashrabiyyah.
Woodwork was also used
on the frames of doors and windows, on internal archways, ceiling bosses,
ceilings, external mashrabiyyah cornices and base-brackets.
and extension projects have been implemented and great changes have occurred in
traditional Makkah in the last decade. No doubt the city's architecture will
continue to evolve, creating new styles that seek to harmonize old and new.
architecture of Makkah - an important strand of Saudi Arabian culture and
tradition - deserves to be reevaluated, rediscovered and protected, rather than
demolished. Its outstanding qualities can inspire new designs for contemporary
construction. A few of the city's buildings are being preserved as historical
monuments, and more should be; they can either be adapted to today's comfort
requirements or converted to new uses. The transmission of this unique
architectural heritage to future generations would be a valuable victory for
Saudi Arabia's cultural preservation efforts.