Sharjah: It’s a new day and carpet trader Firas Al-Omari looks forward to good business ahead. His was the first store to open in the historical Central Souq of Sharjah. The trade licence of his shop was issued in November 1977, just before the opening of the legendary traditional market.
Al-Omari says: “I started my work in this store, which I inherited from my father when I was 15 years old. I found a home within the extended family of the Central Souq and not just a place for trade and making money. The souq has been a witness to the stories of the past and our cherished memories.”
The picturesque blue architectural masterpiece, on the bank of the serene Khalid Lagoon, is known for its striking Islamic motifs and unique character. The Central Souq formally opened in 1978. There are myriad stories of the Central Souq’s endless charms and fragrances that have been preserved for posterity by generations of traders who have made it their home for their diverse businesses for decades — from exquisite carpets and antique collectibles to gold jewellery to various other precious must-haves and knick-knacks.
Enjoying a distinguished identity
Al-Omari points out that his father, who came from Yemen 45 years ago, made the Central Souq his permanent headquarters for his carpet trade. Many Yemeni merchants followed him and successfully set up their businesses in the market and continue to thrive. According to Al-Omari, the Central Souq enjoys a distinguished identity among visitors and residents and showcases the renewed spirit and unique character of Sharjah.
In another shop, a huge carpet that occupies an entire wall catches your eye and instantly transports you back to the past. It has been woven by a family from Tabriz in Iran. The city is famous for its handmade carpets. That family created the masterpiece over five years with threads of pure silk and wool to tell the famous Yemeni story of Queen Bilqis in delicate detail. It boasts of a profusion of breath-taking colours portraying the luxurious details of the royal palace and characters from the tale such as wild lions.
Showcasing distinctive products
Sales manager Ahmed Al-Shazly says that the carpet costing Dh120,000 is one of the rarest and showcases the incredible precision and skills of carpet weavers. Each carpet is handmade, bearing the signature of its makers from the famous Iranian families historically engaged in this industry, he pointed out.
Many such distinct and rare carpets are showcased in the Central Souq. Some of them are in the form of paintings and wall carpets.
Al-Shazly adds that after years of dealing with some of the finest and rare carpets, the sellers have acquired the skills to identify the source of a particular carpet and the family that created it without even looking at the signature.
Many of these carpet dealers can assess the true value of a carpet through its threads, whether it is pure or mixed silk, the number of knots per inch and the variety of natural colours. The prices of handmade carpets also vary according to the mastery of the piece, its fine details, its thickness and the age of the piece, which increases in price with the years of its progress.
Antique shops at the Souq are also a treasure-trove of legends about carpets from around the world, their quality, their forbidding prices, estimated at millions of dirhams, and their various shapes and types in various countries of manufacture.
Muhammad Jaafar, a trader who has been working in the market for 35 years, says that he once sold a carpet worth one and a half million dirhams.
The carpets range from foreign origin to pure silk, manufactured in the Iranian city of Qom, and others from Isfahan, Tabriz, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan and other countries famous for making carpets.
Global meeting point
The merchants of the Central Souq, most of whom have grown with the market, insist that the traditional market remains the favourite destination of shoppers looking for distinctive heritage collectibles and rare carpets. The market remains a meeting place for people from around the world to share their experiences and tales and buy a slice of global heritage and cultures.
Yemeni merchant Ali Seif backs the view of his colleagues that the market brings them all together with love and closeness, making it the second home for their extended family in the Souq. He started 30 years ago and remembers it as one of the most famous landmarks of his life.
The Souq, thanks to its reputation, attracts many families known for the craft of carpet making, who come to them from Iran to display their distinctive wares. The business in expensive handmade carpets has not declined over the years as connoisseurs of this art do not mind spending their dirhams for something that they like.
Spirit of the place
Ibrahim Abdullah says the Souq had been his first tourist stop when he first came to Sharjah about 20 years ago from Egypt.
Algerian visitor Amal Ahmed confirms that despite the multiplicity of shopping centres and major commercial markets, the Central Souq remains her favourite destination for buying carpets, pointing to the characteristic spirit of the place and its fragrance, which adds to the pleasure of shopping.
Salesman Abdul Sattar Abdul Ghafran, who started in one store in one of the stores 30 years ago, feels that the souq has retained its original spirit. It remains his second home after he arrived from Bangladesh more than three decades ago.
As Firas Al-Omari decides to call it a day, he says he looks forward to a new day, opening early in the morning, every day. He is excited to return to his shop, just as he had been that day when he sold his first carpet in Central Souq.