This handsome building with its strong, square lines seems almost modern, save for the ablaq masonry, a clear indicator of its Mamluk origin. Built in 1504–05 by Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri, this classical Mamluk structure was constructed to accommodate visiting merchants. It went up, as fate would have it, at the end of a period of Mamluk prosperity, the result of their control of the spice trade between Asia and Europe. When Vasco da Gama discovered a path around Africa
in 1495, the decline in Cairo's importance began. Sadly, although al-Ghuri was a prolific builder and a courageous soldier, he was a decade behind the curve. He died in 1516 staving off the Ottomans in Aleppo, Syria. His successor, Tumanbay II, was destined to last only a year before succumbing to the might of Istanbul.
Nevertheless, the building is in fairly good shape, and it provides an indication of how medieval Cairene commerce operated. Merchants would bring their horses and carts into the main courtyard, where they would be stabled, while the merchants would retire to the upper floors with their goods.
Today the wikala's rooms are used as studios for traditional crafts, including carpet weaving, metalwork, and the making of mashrabiyya that are not so different from the ones that protrude from the upper floors into the courtyard. The restoration also converted the site for cultural events. Traditional musicians, singers, and dancers perform regularly. Sufi chanting music and dancing (the whirling dervishes) takes place every Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday (showtime 8 pm).
Shar'a Muhammad 'Abdu, Cairo, Egypt