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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
L’Orientaliste: Treasure Trove of History
The city of Cairo is a cornucopia of bookstores and stationary shops, like treasure troves where the savvy shopper can discover history-laden accessories and one-of-a-kind rarities.
Located amongst the hustle and bustle of Talaat Harb square, L’Orientaliste is just such a place. The little bookshop has been around since its thriving beginning in the glory days of the mid-1930s. While it’s small and slightly tucked away in an alleyway enclave, the quality of its collection should not be overlooked.
The store is filled to the brim with rare collections of old books, lithographs, postcards and maps, with some of them dating back to the 16 th century. Many of the books were written by individuals, inspired by the authors’ visits to Egypt . Owner Nagwa Kamy keeps a seriously large and organised database recorded in French, containing lists of the items available for sale.
While various black and white photos caught our eye, the old maps were equally intriguing. There are a slew of maps and as they date back to different eras, it was fascinating to see the changes that have been made from landscape to the drawing of Egypt ’s province lines and districts; which have all developed and evolved drastically over time. Original maps dating back to the 1500s may run you up to 5000LE.
Kamy’s book collection is vast, containing various travel books as well as geographical depictions of Africa and beyond. Seeing as how the books are tales of history and often novelties, the prices reflect that. From what we could tell, books range anywhere from 40LE to 400LE; and it’s possible to negotiate with the owner over the higher-priced editions.
If you’re an artist at heart; check out the collection of lithographs, including depictions of the famous Cairo bazaars. They’re intricately detailed and beautifully unique; providing a little more depth than the average simple photograph.
Whether you’re searching for a personal item or picking up a postcard to send across the sea, L’Orientaliste is a great place to check out for rare items that are laden with history and is more unique than your typical Talaat Harb postcard stand. Swing by the store and take a little gander for yourself. If will definitely remind you of the dense ancient history that founded this very city.
Stationary shops are in no short supply in Egypt. The average type of stationary can be found on almost every other street corner. But once we start talking about quality, a wide selection and, sometimes, obscure little knick knacks, suddenly, there’s far fewer choices of stationeries to go to.
Possibly the most famous of all the stationary shops is Samir & Aly. Situated on Sherif St. in Downtown Cairo, this particular branch has two large spacious floors plus two separate quarters located at either side of Alwan.
With a much bigger selection than any other stationary shop, Samir & Aly look to meet all the needs from school and office supplies to an extensive art section with different types of paint, canvases, sketchbooks, paper, and even a selection of easel’s to choose from.
Sketchbooks are available in a range of sizes—A4, A3 and A5. The qualyty of the paper feels very rich. There is a whole wall dedicated to drawing pastels with one small box of 12 costing 53,55LE. A set of 18 Gouache paints costs 46LE plus the bottle of fixative to brush over your finished painting costs 14.95LE. Should you run out of one particular colour, Samir & Aly offer single 200ml tubes of acrylic paint at 23,90LE. Other sizes are available as well.
In the window there is a nice range of stylish stationary gifts including beautiful wooden pen holders for your desk; paper holders and organisers made from the same mahogany wood and even a large selection of lamps. One of the cheaper ones costs 50,89LE, whereas a more stylish and mobile lamp costs 159LE.
The prices here at Samir & Aly are a little steep, but that is reflected in the qualyty of the brands that they carry, including Faber Castell, Uni Ball, Parker Fabriano and Office.
The first branch of Samir & Aly was opened in 1969 by Samir El Maayergy and Aly Shatla, it quickly grew to four branches by the early 1980’s and thanks to their savvy business minds has became a staple of stationary shopping in Cairo.