This post has been read 11876 times!
There’s a festive atmosphere in the old Mubarakiya Market as Kuwait gets ready to celebrate the National Day and Liberation Day holidays. Shops are filled with decorative items and children’s clothing in the colors of the Kuwaiti flag. At night the strings of twinkling lights and other illuminated decorations lend a magical look to the souk. It’s all hustle and bustle as visitors enjoy strolling around in a setting where time seems to have managed at least to slow down a bit, if not stand still. For parents and grandparents a visit to the souk is always infused with nostalgia as they take a walk down memory lane.
Mubarakiya Market has always been the heart and soul of Kuwait and embodies some of the country’s best attributes: friendly people, traditional Arabian hospitality, and a personal way of doing business in an unhurried atmosphere. The old souk was also once the physical center of the country where two distinct cultures converged, that of the nomadic bedouins and the settled townspeople.
From the direction of the seaport came goods imported from as far away as India and Africa brought to Kuwait on wooden sailing ships. From the desert came camel caravans and bedouins who traded their livestock for the essential items they needed such as coffee and spices. Along with the exchange of merchandise came the confluence of people, ideas, and services.
Traffic is one of the downsides of modern life that has infringed on the historical market area. Later in the evening, parking can be a problem but you can usually find a space in the multi-story parking garage next to Gulf Bank headquarters. The iconic bank building is beautifully lit up with red, white and green National Day lights while an impressive light show illuminates the parking structure.
Exit the garage and you’ll see a mosque on your left and next to it Souk Al Tajjar. Along with Souk Al Dakhili on the right, it was one of the two main thoroughfares that crossed through the heart of old Kuwait town. At present Souk Al Tajjar is festively decorated with lights while a special National Day market comprised of small booths has been set up in this pedestrian zone. Continue across the street and you’ll head into the bustling alleys that house the date market, the fruit and vegetable market, the meat and the fish market, which you can usually smell before you see it.
Like all Middle Eastern souks, Mubarakiya Market was traditionally divided into different areas selling specific items. These divisions still exist today but they are interspersed with random shops selling cheap and cheerful made-in- China items, Kashmiri shawls, clothing, souvenirs, and footwear. The small shops in the souk are at their most colorful this time of year, especially the clothing stores. With Ramadan less than a month away, the elaborately-decorated clothes worn by children for the Girgian holiday are already on display along with loads of fancy red, white, black and green outfits and accessories for National Day.
For little boys there are fancy dishdashas with matching caps and vests. For girls there are dresses in every color of the rainbow, adorned with embroidery, tassels, sequins, pearls, and other embellishments. Matching bags are used by the children to collect sweets and nuts when they go door to door during the holiday singing special Girgian songs. One of the oldest sections of the souk is Souk Tamar, the date market, currently festooned with strings of Kuwaiti flags.
At the end of it, on the right, is the old diwaniya of Shaikh Mubarak the Great. It’s a very modest two-story structure where the eminent Amir who is considered the founder of modern Kuwait held court from 1896 to 1915. Cross the open square in front of the diwaniya and you’ll be dazzled by the brightly- decorated streets, pedestrian zones that criss-cross through the souk. As the hour grows later the souk becomes busier. Families are out in force, enjoying the festive atmosphere and taking pictures with their smart phones.
The smell of meat kebabs and grilled chicken is in the air as the restaurants in the open square at the entrance to the fruit and vegetable market begin filling up with customers. Children enjoy playing around the impressive fountain in the square with dancing waters illuminated in changing colors. In the background, the Liberation Tower and other modern buildings attractively illuminated for National Day enhance the colorful scene. A walk through Mubarakiya Market when the weather is nice is always a pleasant experience. When it’s National Day time, a visit to the old souk is not to be missed.
Photos and story by Claudia Farkas Al Rashoud
Special to the Arab Times