Egypt has never been famous for its handmade carpets. Artefacts, falafel; yes, but carpets, not so much. Situated in Hadayek El Kobba where it once had a clear view of Kobba Palace is one of the oldest handmade carpet factories in Egypt.
El Kattan Carpets opened its doors in 1930 as a carpet factory. Once a palace belonging to Khedive Ismail, it is now hidden between a gridlock of buildings that gradually appeared over the years, as Cairo increasingly became a metropolitan city.
Because of its hidden location, it may be hard to get to: once you get to Hadayek El Kobba right near the palace, ask around for directions to El Kattan Carpets as there are various side streets that you need to pass through to reach it.
Looking from the outside in, the factory doesn't seem the part. The foundations of the palace still stand, along with the detailed, painted high ceilings, windows and chandeliers. Certificates hang on most walls and the few pieces of furniture that remain in the owner's office have resided there since his grandfather opened the factory back in 1930.
A door in the courtyard leads you to where tens of employees work uninterrupted eight-hour days, sometimes on more than one carpet at a time. The ages range from as young as nine-years-old to as old as 65. Their job seems simple; knotting and tying different coloured threads together by using a wooden, hand-sized stick with a sharp edge to cut the thread. The speed and accuracy at which they follow patterns and colours on a grid is near impossible; their swift hand movements and attention to detail is why El Kattan Carpets has a clientele base not only in Egypt but around the world as well.
They can very quickly, but calmly and collectively jump from one carpet to the next without pausing to take a break or another glance at the patterned grid that they follow. Conjunctionally, in another room you'll find one worker trimming the excess thread off of a finished carpet. There are also three workers in the sun-enveloped courtyard scrubbing a rug by using good old fashioned soap and water, having just finished two others now air-drying on a pole.
In the last stage of carpet production, one worker is solely assigned the task of placing a thick border of thread around it, placing the final touches on the carpet. Carpets are available for purchase, starting at 500LE all the way up to several hundred thousands, depending of course on the textiles and the size of the carpets.
Upon leaving El Kattan Carpets, not only will you have been exposed to a vast collection of rugs and carpets in different colours, materials and sizes; but you will also have had the chance to explore the historical building. According to recorded documents, the Ministry of Culture has officially signed El Kattan Carpets as a site of historical significance. But that's just the icing on top: as with most tourists who visit, you'll be more interested in how a ball of thread can turn from something that many of us take for granted every day to a beautiful piece of furnishing art.
El Kattan Carpets is legally registered by the Ministry of Labor as the only training center for handmade rug manufacturing. The company gives back to the Egyptian community by providing training courses to underprivileged children in Cairo slums; thus providing a platform to educate and fight unemployment. According to their Facebook page, El Kattan Carpet's goal is 'to teach a dimishing worldwide skill as well as offering and providing job opportunities for young adults and assist them in having a better standard of living.'
For more information about its products and training courses, visit El Kattan Carpet's website.
Cairo 360 does not condone child labour in any way, but we insist on reporting situations as is.