From Burton’s Pilgrimage: A description of a Caravanserai

by Jim Morgan


THE “Wakalah,” as the Caravanserai or Khan is called in Egypt, combines the offices of hotel, lodging-house, and store. It is at Cairo, as at Constantinople, a massive pile of buildings surrounding a quadrangular “Hosh” or court-yard. On the ground-floor are rooms like caverns for merchandise, and shops of different kinds-tailors, cobblers, bakers, tobacconists, fruiterers, and others. A roofless gallery or a covered verandah, into which all the apartments open, runs round the first and sometimes the second story: the latter, however, is usually exposed to the sun and wind. The accommodations consist of sets of two or three rooms, generally an inner one and an outer; the latter contains a hearth for cooking, a bathing-place, and similar necessaries. The staircases are high, narrow, and exceedingly dirty; dark at night, and often in bad repair; a goat or donkey is tethered upon the different landings; here and there a fresh skin is stretched in process of tanning, and the s mell reminds the veteran traveller of those closets in the old French inns where cat used to be prepared for playing the part of jugged hare. The interior is unfurnished; even the pegs upon which clothes are hung have been pulled down for fire-wood: the walls are bare but for stains, thick cobwebs depend in festoons from the blackened rafters of the ceiling, and the stone floor would disgrace a civilised prison: the windows are huge apertures carefully barred with wood or iron, and in rare places show remains of glass or paper pasted over the framework. In the court-yard the poorer sort of travellers consort with tethered beasts of burden, beggars howl, and slaves lie basking and scratching themselves upon mountainous heaps of cotton bales and other merchandise.

This is not a tempting picture, yet is the Wakalah a most amusing place,…