We all like to bring back a little reminder of our holidays, don’t we? And wherever we go in the world, we will find innumerable souvenir shops, or what I kindly call ‘sparrows’ at the historic sites, but there is a law which absolutely forbids the dishonest sale of fake artefacts, or stolen pieces on the black market.
In some places in Egypt you will be able to find not just replicas or purpose-made souvenirs, honestly sold as such, but the real thing – if it is not worth anything to the archaeologists and museums. When I went to Alexandria I visited the old ruins of a Roman villa. It is a relatively small site and takes no time at all to wander through the still standing pillars and bath-house. At one point I came across a little collection of pottery shards left on a pillar plinth (photo below) and I wasn’t sure if this was just to show what had been found, or whether they were free for people to choose something from, but I didn’t like to take a piece. Further on, I saw a large mound of gravel and rubble which contained thousands of small shards. I picked up three tiny pieces from there without worry.
At Saqqara, I stumbled across a small bust of Nefertiti. It was poking out of a bundle of rubbish left where a ‘sparrow’ had had his trading post. It was made of resin – the medium for most cheap souvenir statues – and in poor condition. I took it as my lucky find for the day. It was probably worth only a few pence. Even if I had bought it from the absent trader, it would still have cost only a few pence. My exchange for my freebie was in the tips I gave to various helpers I came across. One may be asked for a small tip for taking a photo of the locals. I was asked for a tip for photographing a camel!
I did bring home the three great pyramids of Giza, though. They are very pretty coloured perspex, about 2 inches high, and in a boxed set – cost about £2 GBP.
The real archaeology can be found in the wonderful monuments still standing, or in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Although photography is not allowed in the Museum without a permit (small charge), the many photos we can take freely while on holiday are the best souvenirs, along with our memories, of course.
If you are looking for a real souvenir, browse the souks for real antiques or reproductions, or splash out on a genuine Egyptian rug: the choice and quality are wonderful and they will last a life-time. One must accept that these rug-makers are young girls and sit at their looms for long hours, but that is their job. If this worries you, you can choose not to purchase one. Egypt is Egypt. I found some lovely kilims in the market for £20-30.
Another suggestion is to visit the Papyrus Gallery in Cairo, where one can see a demonstration of papyrus-making and buy yourself a real copy of this wonderful art-work. A real copy is not an antique, nor is it fake: it is still hand-crafted using authentic materials. A papyrus picture is also very easy to bring home as it rolls up inside a cardboard tube.
I found some lovely little hand-made pots at Tunis, in Fayoum. I could have bought the whole shop, they were so pretty, but I left feeling very happy with the few I had chosen. They are made on site in a small workshop, worked in clay, dried outside in the sun and then enamelled and fired in a small kiln, and the folk designs were fascinating. (more)
The real crimes in fake souvenirs are perpetrated by real crooks. In 2007 a family in Bolton, UK, was arrested for trying to pass off a fake statue for over £400,000.
It was reported that “A family appeared in court accused of passing off a fake Egyptian artefact to a local authority for more than £400,000.
The Amarna Princess statuette was bought for £410,393 by Bolton metropolitan borough council in September 2003 in the belief it was genuine.
It was said to date from 1350BC and represent one of the daughters of Pharaoh Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, the mother of Tutankhamen, and be worth up to £1 million.
The 20-inch figure went on display in Bolton museum after being featured in an exhibition opened by the Queen at the Hayward Gallery, London.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police art and antiques unit removed the artefact last year after concerns about its authenticity.”