Cairo Sights

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Old Red-Light District

Old Red-Light District Review

Although the area around Shar'a Clot Bey is now rather conservative, at one time in the 20th century it was lined with brothels and bars, and you can still see the arched walkways and hidden nooks that once sheltered unspeakable vices. Prostitution was not made illegal in Cairo until 1949, but the trade had one last great boom period during World War II, when the nearby Shepheard's was commandeered as the British officers' base and the Ezbekiyya teemed with young men less interested in the Pyramids than in more carnal pursuits. To them, this area was known simply as the Birka, after one of the adjoining alleys, and it offered them comforts of all sorts for just 10 piastres. The shuttered second-floor rooms see less traffic these days, reborn as cheap if largely respectable pensions, and the nearby Saint Mark's Cathedral, once a source of succor for guilt-ridden consciences, now serves a more prosaic function for the local Christian community. Every once in a while the local newspapers run interviews with elderly women professing to have been madams in their youth, although few other Egyptians lament the passing of the trade.

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