Khan el-Khalili is a major market in the Islamic district of Cairo. The souk district is one of Cairo’s main attractions for tourists and natives as well. The site of Khan el-Khalili was originally the site of the mausoleum known as the turbataz-za’faraan, which was the burial site of the Fatimid caliphs. The mausoleum was part of the Fatimid Great Eastern Palace complex, begun in 970 AD byGawhar al-Siqilli, the general who conquered Egypt for the Fatimid dynasty and founded Cairo that same year.
By the time of Sultan Barquq, the first CircassianMamluk Sultan in the late 14th century, Egypt had been significantly affected by the devastate of the Black Death but continued to be the center of great economic activity, and many commercial and religious buildings were constructed at that time. The khan was located at the middle of Cairo’s most important zone of economic activity. Strategically it is significant therefore later sultans also built commercial establishments nearby, including Sultan Qaytbay’swikala south of the Al-Azhar Mosque, and Sultanal-Ghuri’s better-preserved wikala just east of his mausoleum complex.
This economic and commercial zone ran along the city’s main north-south axis, the qasaba and was also the privileged site of many monumental religious complexes built throughout the Mamluk period and beyond. By the late 15th century, the district around Khan el-Khalili had also become the major center of foreign trade, which included the sale of slaves and precious stones.The Khan el-Khalili today is mainly occupied by Egyptian rather than foreign merchants and shop holders, but is significantly geared towards tourists. Shops typically sell souvenirs, antiques and jewellery, but many traditional workshops continue to operate in the surrounding area and the goldsmiths’ souk, for example, is still important for locals.