Faransa, it is the Arabic pronunciation for France, the country.
Aged more than two decades, Faransa Street (Arabic: شارع فرنسا) still enjoys its vitality and overcrowding aspect. Jewelers, cloths, various home necessities (Chinese production)… Over hundreds of products can be found in that Street and its ramifications. One of those is Zaneet Elsettat "زنقة الستات".
Faransa Street is located in the heart of Old Alexandria, in Mansheya District. (Check the map). On the corniche you can find it, next to Algondy al maghool, on your right hand side, this is the direction to Faransa Street, which is now called Mustapha Hafez Street, a very rich district with variety of activities all with the main aim: TO TRADE.
Faransa Street was built in 1757 by the Ottomans. It forms a part of a Commercial/Residential Complex called at that time “Wikala” "وكالة". This was also the area where Alexandria's Jewish community lived, but most have now migrated to Israel. Different areas have specialized in different goods and one may find all manner of products from jewelry to Medicinal plants (Suq El-Magharba) to Bedouin clothing (Souq El-Libya). (http://www.alexandriatour.com/)
A few steps later, you will be able to see the shiny shop windows filled with gold items, which is the Sagha (Gold market) area, along the street on both sides tens of gold shops are available, some goes back to 80 years old, and some are of its twenties. Only few of the actual merchants are there since before the seventies, like the Armenian Merchant at the beginning of the Street, owner of “Likian” store.
The stores of Elsagha usually are open by 10 – 10:30 am, but the owners come after 1:00 pm. The gold items vary depend upon the customers tastes as in any market depend upon the customers tastes, as in any place, it is either fancy with lots of elegant designs and precious stones or just pure gold which is a main for some women as to save the value of money.
Within the Sagha, between the gold stores you will be able to find your way to Zaneet Alsettat through a small fence, that leads to tiny corridors, with very tiny stores, the majority of them are with 2 meters width and 1 meter depth, their doors are having another usage which is a display unit as well. Around 1600 shops are available in Zaneet al settat. Price / m2 is quoted at 7,000 LE.
“Zaneet Elsettat”, this name reminds of the big black sheet wrapping women of old days in Alexandria. Zaneet al settat (is the hard to pass place for ladies) the reason for this name is that the place is only designated for the selling of: women accessories, sewing accessories and cloth. And the buyers are ladies, you would hardly find a man passing and if he is found, he is either a tea boy or goods carrier, and always says loudly (take care of your back) to announce his passing and to ensure good intention.
As mentioned before the Zaneet al settat consists of two main markets: the women accessories market and the cloth market.
(Zaneet al settat pic)
1-the women accessories market: there it includes:
- Women accessories- which are mainly made in China, also make-up and cosmetics products.
- Sewing accessories such as zips and buttons. One of the most well known stores for sewing accessories is: AL hagg Otta, who tells us that there are so many jargon that is used by the store owners / sellers who would like to have a special conversation without the customer to know about it. For example: atoon = customer. The best season is summer as many summer travelers come, and also as the summer vacations starts.
- Libyan clothing: (Libyan clothing shop pic) within the accessories market also there are some stores that sell Libyan clothing / costume which also is the costume for Matrooh people ( Awlad Ali tribe). Those are either ready made – the store makes it, or by order. Not only Libyan clothes but also, Moroccan blankets (which are made of Camel’s hair/wool) which are also used by Libyans or Matrooh’s people.
- Melaya Laff: The exact translation is: the figure wrapping piece of cloth. It was the main costume for Egyptian females till early 40’s of the last century where it was designated for class B, C. The majority of the females now (of the B, C class) are wearing Aabaya (straight cut, ankle -length dress with no figure definitions) instead of the melaya laff. When asking about Melaya Laff, and where to find it, as Zeneet Alsetat was well-known for selling such an item, unfortunately only one store is selling it, this is Alrayyess store. Melaya Laff: is a piece of cloth with a unified / standard width and length, provided in two different materials that classified based upon the thickness, it is always in the black color (as a way to show prudence), semi ribbed texture. To have it modified to a woman’s figure, she has to buy the melaya cloth and give it to the tailor. The Melaya cloth is sold for 75 LE/ piece, and to be tailored o fit the size add, another 10 – 15 LE.
- Pharonic souvenirs: With in the accessories market there are also some of the antiques / Pharonic souvenirs shops. Pharonic souvenirs merchants bring their goods from Khan al khalily manufacturers and resell them in Alexandria, the buyers are either, Egyptians who would like to have souvenirs to give their friends abroad or tourists who come form the Seaport.
The demand now is not as 20 years earlier for many reasons, based upon the following reasons which Mr. Hazem abdel magueed, Pharonic souvenir shop owner, states:
1- the major one is that the tourists staying at the Alexandria Sea port , for transit, are not with the same number as they used to be, also the transit period is not as long as it was before which used to be 1 week on average. But there’s another buyers segment, the Bambooty, the bambooty is considered to be a middle man, he buys the souvenirs from Zanee’t al settat and resell it to the tourists in the port, this is because he is having a permission / license to enter the port.
2- The quality of the products are not as the same as 20 years before, this is another obstacle, and the increase in the cost of the raw materials adds to lower demand.
The cloth market
It is specialized in selling cloth. (further trip will be made to explore it).
About 50 years ago there was the Mansheya police station, replaced now with: Sooq Libya (Libya market), where many wondering small traders came and had their share of the area. Building their small stores selling merchandises imported from Libya.
Social Aspects in Faransa Street
The major community of Faransa Street is the Jewelers one. “They formed a League that works somehow like a Syndicate, managing conflicts between merchants, supporting broke ones... The League was created in the seventies. The successive presidents of the League were: Ahmed Nifa, Saad Elkady, Mohamed Abd-Elwahab and now Mohamed Abd-Elsalam.” As said by Mr. Essam working in the Jewelry store of “Mohamed Abd-Elwahab”.
A large number of the merchants and residents of Faransa Street come from Upper Egypt or from countryside near Alexandria like Minia or Elbehera… Here are some stories about the old faces and humble people met along this street:
“Amm Hassan”, 72 years old, came from the countryside 50 years ago to reside in Faransa Street. He was working at “spinning & Weaving Company”. He got married and had 4 children (2 girls & 2 boys). Both of the girls got Diploma Degree and were married to guys from Alexandria. One of them lived in Alexandria. The other lived in Helwan (Cairo) and got a girl, who, now, is married and lives in Agami (Alexandrian Suburb). The boys were graduated from scientific colleges. One of them works as Engineer and Head of Department in “Abu-Kir Cement Company”.
Amm Hassan told us that the street is the same as he saw it first time, same activities going on, same allure of the buildings… He’s enjoying a peaceful life there after retirement: staying more time at home, chatting with neighbors and praying in the nearby mosque…
“Ali” the Ahwagui (waiter in a coffee shop), came from Assuit in Upper Egypt, 15 years ago. He’s married and has 2 children (6 & 9 years old). He manifested the generosity of Ahl Elbalad (the origins of the Country): while we were interviewing some guys in the store near the coffee shop where Ali works, we were surprised seeing Ali with Coca Cola bottles for us (of course for free ;)!!
The Armenian Merchant owner of “Likian” shop for weaves, is born in Alexandria. However, his accent & his sons’ are still bad in Arabic!! His parents came from Armenia in the Nineteenth Century, with all who came at that time to Alexandria escaping the Ottoman authority over their country. He has been educated in Victoria College. Then he was married and got 2 sons (now, in the 30’s) and a girl (now in her 20’s). His younger son & the girl are working with him in this shop, they are not married. The elder son is married and work alone. The last mentioned tried to escape the downgrading life conditions in Egypt by getting a visa to the American Dream, but in vain… Although the rest of the family did not try to do the same, they do not deny the same desire.
With tears in his eyes, the father told me that Faransa Street has moved from being the best street in Alexandria to be the worst street.. Like everywhere in Egypt, the social life turned upside down since the revolution of 1953. Exactly, when General Mohamed Naguib left the presidency… He expressed his depression for the drop in all life aspects in Egypt: Architecture, education, social relations and commitments,… He suffers a lot from his neighbors’ behavior: unrespecting others’ freedom & calmity, peaceful atmosphere.. loud voices, bad acts in the street, vulgarity in deeds and talks… without a single word of apologizing and even they may quarrel if criticized!!! ”Quel temps, quels mœurs”, he said.
This wasn’t the case when he was young.. He once enjoyed a peaceful life in the Golden Age of Alexandria. He sees no hope in the future except by miracle…
Unlike our precedent narrator, Mr. Essam, working in “Mohamed Abd-Elwahab” shop for Jewelry, sees that nothing has changed in that street. From the seventies till nowadays, the trade is almost the same. Even if the percentage of those who come to shop at Elsagha of Faransa Street is smaller than before, the effective number has not been changed a lot, because the popularity has multiplied several times.
Some young faces told us other stories:
“Sami”, 27 years old, selling hibiscus, came from Upper Egypt twenty years ago. He began his working life bringing clothes and other stuff from Port-Said and selling them in our Street. His relatives own Textile stores in Bahary (other district in Alexandria).
“Hussein”, fresh graduate from Navy Academy in Alexandria, is selling accessories in Zaneet Elsettat till he gets his job in the Navy forces.
Our last face here is Amm “Mohamed Hussein Amin”. He talked to us about “El-Ardy Mosque” dated more than 400 years ago. He told us that many of our historical episodes are shot in that area, around this Mosque. Renovation works are going on now to maintain the young aspect of that mosque. They decides to replace the Hashmy Stones (the original cladding of the Mosque) by Marble tiles!