Welcome to Erbil’s Qaysari Bazaar – said to be one of the oldest covered markets in the world – where enticing scenes such as these are around every corner in the maze of narrow lanes that emanate from the foot of city’s millennia-old Citadel.
The Qaesari is entered through numerous alleys surrounding the Qaysari. Once inside, shoppers walk through a maze of narrow paths between the shops, underneath a roof of corrugated metal. Most alleys feature a unique product that is sold by a majority of the vendors in that location. The northeast corner of the Qaysari contains a north-south alley offering honey and dairy products, such as youghurt and cheeses. Many shops offer Chai Kurdi (Kurdish Tea) as a complimentary drink with good business from the local tea vendors in the Bazaar. It is very popular prior to festivities such as Newroz (Kurdish New Year) in which business excels with larger crowds and customers.
The gleaming windows of gold shops sparkle with rings, necklaces and hand-made jewelry fit for a Kurdish queen.
Ancient-seeming tea shops are wall-papered with framed photos of times past and heaving with regulars eager to argue over Erbil’s latest news.
Mounds of white Kurdish cheese and fresh goat yoghurt arrive from mountain villages and are piled next to powdered-sugar sweets and honeycomb just from the hive.
This is where time-honored Kurdish traditions meet a new wave of foreign and domestic tourists drawn by a chance to experience the irresistible culture – the food, clothes, crafts and conversations – that defines the Kurdistan region.
The history of Qaysari is evident everywhere in the sprawling complex – even housing the 300-year-old tomb of Kurdish leader named Saed Abdulla – but its future is less certain. A new generation is increasingly enthralled by the glitzy malls and high-end shopping centers that have sprung up across Erbil.