Saturday December 2nd, 2023
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Walking Tours Company Qahrawya Navigates Cairo’s Hidden Cultural Gems

Founded in 2018, Qahrawya is changing Egypt’s cultural narrative through artsy walking tours around Cairo.

Farah Desouky

Oral histories and storytelling are woven into Egypt’s fabric, with tales of artistic greatness and cities riddled with cultural gems. In Cairo, building facades speak for architectural eras and colonial influences, store signs carry the stories of owners’ craft and history, artworks saturate local galleries, and Qahrawya - a walking tours company - is narrating it all. 

Samia El Khodary, born and raised in Cairo, was her foreigner friend's go-to for touristic recommendations, except she made sure they weren’t your basic tourist cliches. With her not-so-tourist bucket list becoming insurmountable, she founded Qahrawya in 2018, becoming a tour guide to the city’s never-ending hidden spots and redefining Egypt’s art and culture narrative while she’s at it.

“I think there’s this notion or stereotype about artsy bourgeoisie people, and I felt the need to change that and appeal to everyone who’s interested but not your typical intellectual,” Samia El Khodary, founder Qahrawya tells CairoScene, “And we have a ton of history, unexplored stories, and even places we pass by every day without actually knowing about or looking at.” 

Qahrawya’s tours are each based on a theme. Initially, they only held one tour called ‘fakhfakheena’ (named after a traditional fruit salad, a joking reference to the variety of topics it covers). Since then, El Khodary has divided them into tours about visual culture, cinematic history, and heritage. From Zamalek to Downtown Cairo, to El Mounira the tours span a myriad of Cairene neighbourhoods, with future plans to encompass more. 

“I don’t have a favourite tour,” El Khodary adds. “The highlight is always the crowd, the way they engage with the stops we visit and interact with each other, and what gauges their interest is always surprising.” The tour is a social experience as much as it is entertaining and informative, bringing with it a sense of community as the participants move throughout Cairo.

El Khodary strides through Cairo’s streets with ease, treating the city like an open-air museum, and she’s often met with questions from passersby wondering why a group of people is interested in a seemingly random building. “People on the street would jokingly ask if the pyramids just moved to their neighbourhood, and sometimes they’d interrupt my explanation to the group and add something,” El Khodary recalls. 

The project encompasses Cairo’s never-ending art and cultural landmarks, from art galleries to historic buildings and shops, and hidden handicraft stores, and even acts as a promoter and collaborator to other cultural institutions in Egypt. Because El Khodary hopes Qahrawya can bridge the gap between this untapped intimidating arts scene by promoting other initiatives to her audience, where Egyptian galleries as well have the same initiative and promote exhibitions and events at other galleries in their venues.

Qahrawya’s walking full-day tours are frequented by a diverse audience, from senior citizens who have the time and interest to explore a city they’ve lived in for years, to expats and tourists in Egypt, and art students, Qahrawya welcomes everyone, their only rule is curiosity and enthusiasm.