2002 – My first flight, my first stop, the Emirates. A time when Abu Dhabi and Dubai were roads less traveled than they are today. An exotic paradise taken out from the Arabian nights stories: wonderful oasis spread among the dunes where you could easily get lost, extreme safari trips, climbing up and going down the sands like a “desert montagne russe” run by brave, local Arabs; the flavored shisha and mysterious women hiding behind the veils. Authenticity. Much more than today. Today this is synonym with luxury. Back then, with a newly discovered world of sun and sand, yet untouched by tourism.
But most charming and captivating among all these wonders – the souks. Arabic traditional markets with crazy wonders catching your eyes from the first sight.: sparkling jewelry, traditional clothing and shoes, pashmina shawls. The marvelous wonders of the Gulf.
First souk I visited used to be in Dubai Deira, on the river shores. A souk sadly gone now, burnt in a fire and replaced by a new souk that in my opinion is far, far away in terms of quality and regional specific comparing to the original one. Commercial wins over traditions and new and inspired over Arabic beauties.
A legendary 14th century souk (inspired by the ancient subterranean souk in Baghdad), but modern and alive made my disappointment become past. The moment I discovered Khan Murjan at Wafi Mall. Also pretty new, but has every characteristic of an authentic Arabic world souk – a mix of culture from the Gulf Area, a wonderful rebirth not only for the traditions, but also for my personal memories.A fascinating architecture of fairy tales – lively colors and warm textures, like an extravagant temple for shopping.
My choice? Lebanese store Khan Al Saboun. Who could ignore the wonderful jasmine natural soaps and the massage oil with melon fragrance? And the stories that came with them… It seems the store belongs to an artisan called Badr Hassoun and making soap is a long and meaningful tradition in his family. He learned how to make soap from his grandparents who used to prepare their own natural soap at home. Scented body oils, natural hair oils, all luxury beauty products and candles – exquisite scents that arise your senses from far.
Just a few bits among everything your hearts desires from spices to jewelry, art works and textiles that make history. In the center of the souk there is a restaurant, a marble and wood courtyard in open air with traditional Lebanese, Moroccan, Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian foods and drinks. The Om-Ali had a great taste and the aroma of a Turkish coffee makes any visit complete.
The magic of the marvelous Islamic souk of Khan Murjan seems to be in gathering in one place the most talented craftsmen of the region and serve as an exhibition for their unique handmade products and especially their talents and amazing Arabic traditions sometimes forgotten.