While prized for their beauty and craftsmanship, many crafts in Egypt are threatened by modern construction methods, expensive raw materials or younger generations disinterested in learning the age-old techniques required to make them. However, learning about Egypt’s ancient handicrafts and buying them while on vacation helps keep them alive. Here are five to tell your clients to look out for.


Pottery in Egypt

Ancient Egyptians sourced clay from the River Nile, which was darker than anywhere else in the country because the riverbank was so fertile. After shaping and firing it, they carved messages or motifs into it to decorate temples and tombs. Today, most pottery is produced at Fustat Pottery Village’s 150-plus workshops, which opened in 2021 in Cairo. Artisans crush clay into powder, add water, then mold the paste by hand or on a potter’s wheel. After leaving it to dry in the sun, they fire it in a kiln, sometimes applying glaze before firing a piece again. Your clients can show their support for this valuable craft by buying a memento on their trip.


Making papyrus paper

Clay tablets were replaced as a form of communication by papyrus ever since the Egyptians discovered in 2900 BC that they could transform the plant into sheets that could be written on. However, in 1100 AD they realised it was cheaper to make paper from wood pulp, and the craft began to die out. Its fortunes changed in the 1970s, when villagers in Al-Qaramous planted seeds from other African countries. Papyrus replaced wheat as its main crop as it was more profitable, reviving the craft. These days, most of the villagers are involved in the papyrus industry. Once they’ve chopped it down – it grows back six weeks later – they slice the stalks vertically into thin strips, soak them in hot water, place horizontal strips over vertical ones then press them between cardboard to remove the moisture. Artists paint hieroglyphics, pharaohs and mummies on it for tourists.


Egyptians have been producing tiles since cement was discovered in the 1800s. Saied Hussain has been making cement tiles in Cairo since he was 12, since he learned the craft from his father. Today he’s one of the last of his kind, because producing tiles is tiring work and the raw materials are expensive. Saied makes tiles using traditional methods. First, he sifts white cement until it’s as soft as baking powder. Next, he mixes it with pigments, adds water, then pours individual colors into molds – pouring the lighter colors first. He also draws patterns by freehand. Lastly, he sprinkles the mold with sand, cement and limestone to set the pattern, before placing it beneath a hydraulic press to set the pattern. Saied makes 150 tiles a day, which your clients can buy from shops around Cairo.


An old dyeing house in Egypt

Egyptians have cultivated flax since 8,000 BC, first for its seeds, then for its fibers – archaeologists found remnants of yarn in an Egyptian mortuary dating back to 2033 BC. Salama Salem is passionate about dying yarn, and has been doing so since 1975. He owns Uncle Salama’s Dye House in Cairo’s historic Al-Darb al-Ahmar neighborhood, which many consider to be Egypt’s last dyehouse. Salama and his sons soak yarn in dye and hot water; the hotter the water, the brighter the color. After that, they spin the yarn in a machine to remove the moisture and dry it in the sun before selling it to tourists and international clients.

Stone carving

A man carving stone into a vase

Local craftsmen have been carving hieroglyphics, gods, animals and tombs from stone for 5,000 years, particularly in the Valley of the Kings. Sculptor Sayed Mahmoud El-Mataany in Luxor learned the craft from his father, who was taught from his grandfather. He uses traditional methods to produce vases, jewelry boxes and miniature statues which he sells across the city to tourists and locals. After cutting basalt, granite or Egyptian alabaster with a saw, he hammers it to the desired size then uses a hand-powered drill to carve a hole in the stone if making a vase – a process that can take five days. He and his team then file and sand the product by hand to smooth its surface.

Our travel advisors are on hand to offer advice about galleries to visit, workshops to take and where to buy handmade crafts in Egypt.

Crafts in Egypt © Yarn Corrado Baratta/Shutterstock; Pottery Salsabeel Salem/Shutterstock; making papyrus Marco Ossino/Shutterstock; Tiles in Cairo Emily Marie Wilson/Shutterstock; dying plant in Cairo Halit Sadik/Shutterstock; Stone carving frantic00/Shutterstock

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