Souk al-Qissariya

The importance, legacy, and restoration of a medieval marketplace in Gaza City.

Tunnel-like view of Souk al-Qissariya (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Dr. Suheir Ammar, Assistant Professor at the Islamic University of Gaza
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"What makes Souk al-Qissariya distinctive is its traditional character, the small shops of 4 or 6 metres. Such a tiny size is well-suited for the trade in gold, given that the items sold are small items."

Souk al-Qissariya Gate (Unknown) by Al-Hayat Al-Jadida NewspaperThe Barakat Trust

600 Year-Old Marketplace

Located in the Muslim Quarter of Old Gaza City, Souk al-Qissariya was built in the 14th century during the Mamluk Empire. It has 44 shops: 21 on the north side and 23 on the south side.

Souk al-Qissariya gold souks (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

"Al-Qissariya” is an Arabic transliteration of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. "Caesar" turned into qasr, which came to mean castle or fort in Arabic. Qissariya means “many castles,” referring to its long, arcaded structure containing a row of tiny shops in parallel walls.

Souk al-Qissariya view (2020) by Muneer Elbaz and the technical team of University College of Applied SciencesThe Barakat Trust

Avedis Djeghalian, Dentist and son of Gazan photographer Kegham
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Modern Gold Market

Gaza was a major port city along the Silk Road, for which Al-Qissariya operated as a spice market. Now, it's small shops sell gold jewelry. Avedis Djeghalian, who lived in Gaza in the 1950s, reminisces about how there used to be candy shops, bakeries and shoe shops here. 

Low res Souk al-Qissariya (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Many families come to al-Qissariya to buy gold for a newly-wed bride. Gold jewelry functions as a kind of insured asset to the bride, should she lose her husband as a source of income. 

Souk al-Qissariya view (2020) by Muneer Elbaz and the technical team of University College of Applied SciencesThe Barakat Trust

Muneer Elbaz, Architect, Urban Planner and Lecturer at UCAS
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Christian Merchants

Many of the shop owners are Christians, as both Avedis and Muneer point out.

Doorway from Souk al-Qissariya into mosque (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Avedis Djeghalian, Dentist and son of Gazan photographer Kegham
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Directly adjacent to the Omari Mosque, the Souk al-Qissariya was historically visited most often on religious holidays. One can access the Omari Mosque through a small door tucked between the shops. A Mamluk inscription is carved above the doorway.

Mamluk inscription adjacent to Souk al-Qissariya (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Mamluk Inscription

On the walls of the Bazaar, one can see inlaid stone text. These inscriptions were carved in the Bahri Mamluk period (1250-1382) when Souk al-Qissariya was built. 

Part of the inscription says: "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. One who believes in God and the Last Day and performs prayer and zakat (alms/charity) does not fear anything but God."

Mamluk inscription with fixed fragment by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

The inscription honors the patron – the person who commissioned the building: "The victorious sultan of the world and religion, Muhammad, son of the martyr sultan Al-Mansur Qalawun." Ibn Qalawun ruled Egypt intermittently between 1294 - 1341. Al-Qissariya was built in the 1300s. 

Upward view of Souk al-Qissariya roofing (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Mamluk Architectural Motifs

Muneer Elbaz and his team plan to restore the Mamluk-era vaulted ceiling. The peaked archway is derived from European Gothic-style architecture.

Green on white architectural inscription (2020) by Awqaf and religious affairs ministryThe Barakat Trust

Awqaf Inscription

This inscription was created in the early 2000's by the The Ministry of Endowments (or Awqaf) of Egypt. The text reads, "Oh God, blessings and peace be upon Muhammad and his family."

Fluted archway motifs (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Salem Al Qudwa, Architectural Engineer at Harvard University
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Educational Tools

This pointed archway, carved with decorative fluted reliefs, marks the entrance of the bazaar. Listen to Salem Al Qudwa describe the interactions he and his students have with these architectural elements.

Architectural Details (2020) by Muneer ElbazThe Barakat Trust

Dr. Suheir Ammar, Assistant Professor at the Islamic University of Gaza
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"I find that my students have a tendency to incorporate historical elements inspired by our past. I also see this through the field trips we organise. Students express appreciation for the historic buildings on such trips, regardless of whether they have already been there."

Gaza Marketplace (2011-04-13) by MujaddaraThe Barakat Trust

Souk al-Zawiya

Dr. Suhair Ammar says that after al-Qissariya is restored, the adjacent Souk al-Zawiya should be next. Unfortunately, al-Zawiya was partially destroyed by an explosion in July 2021, making its preservation most urgent.

Rawan Yaghi, Journalist
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Rawan Yaghi talks about her fond memories Souk al-Zawiya. This souk sells more various commodities than Souk al-Qissariya, including vegetables, meat, fruit, and clothes.

Spices on Shelves at Souk Al-Zawiya (2021-03-28) by Jason ShawaThe Barakat Trust

Dr. Suheir Ammar, Assistant Professor at the Islamic University of Gaza
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"Al-Zawiya Bazaar is the eastern section of the old merchant’s street... For it’s heritage, Al-Qaisariyya Bazaar is more valuable because it’s intact, however, in commercial terms, Al-Zawiya is important to local and city residents, given that it is the oldest market in Gaza."

Credits: Story

Compiled by Leena Ghannam. The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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