Nestling below the citadel with many entrances, the central souk or kayseri in Erbil betrays little of its old lineage except in the winding pattern of its covered lanes and wide meeting points.
Judging from the dress of men and women this is not fashionable shopping, the young with money and time throng the new shopping malls springing up which house international brands and coffee shops.
Here though everything can be bought for the wedding ceremonies and feasts from intricately fashioned 24-carat yellow gold – that particular yellow beloved throughout the Middle East – to huge pots and pans. The bustle is greatest here. Mums with daughters throng the narrow shops.
Marriage is an expensive business for a man in Kurdistan. Their intended requires a fitted-out home and that all-important gold.
Also doing brisk trade nearby are the clothing stalls, many selling sheer shimmering cloths and accessories for weddings.
Two shops, diagonally opposite themselves in that time-honoured fashion of like shops being clustered together, sell old carpets. The carpet sellers look older than their wares for despite protestation, none (or at best only one or two) are as old as claimed.
Nearby, the smell of cheese heralds another alley dedicated just to cheese and sweets. The cheeses are piled into tall pyramids and some keep fresh under sheep hides. Just up from here a kaleidoscope of colour heralds the sweet section. Turkish Delight in pale pastels jostling with green pistachio confectionary.
Perhaps the strangest offering (for the foreigner) here is Manna, flat dough-like rounds dusted in flour – not sweet or savoury. These are a hallmark of Iraq with each area making its own variation. A Canadian Kurd was buying six boxes to take back to Montreal as gifts. He told me that these came from Sulimaniyah and were the best on the market. The smallish wooden box, nailed shut, was not cheap at US$12.
The west of the market rings with the sound of metal work. Not so many buyers here and no women, for this section caters to workers. Tools for building or agriculture and guns available here for sale or repair.
Bridging the workers and domestic interests, and separating the metal and clothing sectionals are the large comprehensive shop units sell fertilisers, tools, seeds and small plants for the approaching spring. Men and women betray a common interest and cluster round this area.
Although the wares may change with time and fashion, these markets are definitely still relevant to Erbil residents. Their function unchanged even if their appearance changes as practical, but inexpensive, repairs are carried out on an ad hoc basis.
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