What could be more colorful than an Oriental bazaar? Today, modern marketplaces in many cases stand on ground that once was a caravan stop along the ancient Silk Roads. Long trains of camels with bells on their necks once brought goods to market that had come from the far reaches of Asia, Africa, and Arabia.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, such marketplaces appeared regularly on postcards, sent by tourists traveling in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and the Holy Land. Vacationers from Europe loved to visit the Colonial possessions and send home postcards of the exotic things they saw.
Traveling through an oriental bazaar was a feast for the eye and a delight for the senses. Every type of merchant was in the streets, trying to sell his wares to the public. The postcard in Figure 1 (left) shows vendors of cold drinks filling the cups of the thirsty from enormous bottles carried on their backs.
Figure 2 shows a cloth merchant selling his wares. The postcard was mailed in 1918 and the writer says, “This is a silk merchant’s warehouse. There is any amount of places of this kind in the native quarters.”
The Tuck Oilette postcard in Figure 3 (right), posted in 1909, shows a street scene of Cairo, Egypt. Food vendors are most in evidence with trays piled high with Middle Eastern bread, sweet meats, and fruit. A white-robed Nubian brings dates in a scarlet handkerchief while a woman at the far right carries fish in a basket on her head. The postcard in Figure 4 show food being served by long-robed Egyptians in what is called an “ambulatory restaurant.”
In figure 5, we see another Tuck Oilette postcard featuring Cairo poultry sellers. Fat chickens are in the baskets at the curb and one of the black-veiled women pictured on the card is holding pigeons. The sellers have come in from the countryside to market their birds.
Other types of tradesmen and women are a cheese seller (Figure 6), an orange seller, (Figure 7, left) and a vendor of vases and storage jars (Figure 8). Each vendor wears the colorful Egyptian clothing that were worn at the time.
But an oriental bazaar is more than just sellers of goods. Camels and donkeys were the mainstay of markets in Silk Road times, hauling in produce to be sold and hauling away what is left when the bazaar closes. Figure 9 shows a donkey boy, whose responsibility was to see that the donkeys do their jobs. It was common to see children employed in many occupations within the bazaar. Girls were often behind looms weaving rugs and boys made a livelihood by shining shoes.
When people think of oriental bazaars, they sometimes think of souks. Souks are hole-in-the-wall stores in the middle of a casbah or medina. Individual families own them, operate them, and often sleep in them. A typical souk is shown on a postcard in Figure 10. Customers who purchase items from souks are expected to haggle over the best price. The seller usually starts out asking double the price for an item that he eventually intends to sell it for.
Entertainers were also a part of Middle Eastern and North African open air markets. Arab musicians, like those pictured in Figure 11, traditionally played in the streets. The custom of entertainers at the marketplace goes back to the ancient Silk Road days, when innkeepers built caravansaries along the trade routes so that those who traveled in the caravans and their beasts of burden could rest for the night. The better caravansaries offered guests a place to bathe and a place to be entertained during their stay. Entertainment consisted of musicians, actors, minstrels or acrobats. Entertainers became attached to the commercial districts of Middle Eastern and North African cities.
Figure 12 (right) shows a snake charmer in the midst of the marketplace. The snake charmer has the snake wrapped around his shoulders while ladies stare in awe.
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