My daughter is a budding geologist. She loves rocks. We have a delightful book that we always take with us as we travel around Egypt, A Traveler’s Guide to The Geology of Egypt, published by AUC, and I do my best to tell her dramatic stories of the prehistoric volcanoes of Egypt’s western desert, of the ancient sea that used to cover Sinai, and the subsequent layering of limestone as a result of millions of years of sedimentation of sea creatures.
On our travels around Egypt, she had put together the most extraordinary collection of interesting rocks, including many delightful crystals. Unfortunately, much of her collection disappeared during a recent break-in to our home; evidently the bungling thieves mistook the glittery crystals as diamonds. (Why precious crystals would be hiding in plain sight in a Hello Kitty box, well that’s another question).
We decided to help replenish her collection. We didn’t have time to retrace our geologically-inspired ramblings around the country, so we decided to do the best we could inside of Cairo with a visit to the showroom of the Crystal Asfour factory.
Not far from the city center in Shubra el-Kheima (time your visit carefully to not have the day ruined by brutal traffic), Crystal Asfour is quite a sight. Located in an otherwise nondescript neighborhood, the premises are enormous. Supposedly it’s the second largest global producer of crystal after Swarovski in the Czech Republic. Inside the door, it proudly proclaims to be the world’s largest producer of full lead crystal, the largest employer of crystal technicians (I’m not sure this is all good news, the fact that we manage to produce less crystal than the Czechs with a larger workforce), the largest crystal production facility in the world, and the leading global brand of chandelier manufacturing. The company claims to employ over 35,000 staff, and produce over 170 tons of crystal daily.
As soon as you enter the showroom, a massive facility nearly the size of a soccer field filled with glittering, lit-up crystal, you understand what they mean about chandeliers. Chandeliers fill the place. Every inch of space above your head is illuminated by them. Elegant displays on the side walls provide testimony of all the hotels that have installed Asfour chandeliers. There’s even an interesting photo collection of Asfour technicians installing a particularly massive version in Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque complex. The full range of products produced by Asfour are on display, including home ornaments, decorative desk pieces, minute works of art filled with eerily precise holograms and delicate jewelry.
To be sure, the place easily descends into kitsch. There’s a faux Pharaonic chair on sale – glittery, loud and Technicolor – for the cool sum of a LE250,000. Lavishly ornate desk decorations (anyone for a crystal pirate ship the size of a small refrigerator?) stand proudly on display, and make one wonder exactly who are the potential clients for this stuff.
But we weren’t there to decorate our home; we were there for the scientific pleasure of our 8 year-old and her friends. And in this department, the place is a delight. Crystal manufacture is truly an extraordinary story, and we wish that Asfour did a better job of describing or even showing the process in action. A small corner of the massive showroom was dedicated to a brief display of the various stages of the manufacture of crystals, from super heating of sand to cooling to design. Clearly the place is more about selling than education. However, with all that sparkly stuff on display, I hardly think our 8 year-olds would have had much patience for science lessons anyway.
And, in spite of the overboard nature of most of the items, there is much that the kids can afford to take home. We walked away with a selection of small figurines for tens of pounds each, as well as a motley collection of individual crystals for a couple of pounds each.
Crystal Asfour is a delightful outing for kids. We left our 1-year-old child at home, thankfully, but boldly decided to bring along the 3 year-old. This was a bit ambitious, and we could have easily walked out with an incredible bill for the damages that could have happened. For younger kids, the place is a bit of a stretch. But for kids approaching age 8 or above, who have a penchant for sparkly goods, the place is a delight.
Details: Industrial Zone, Shoubra el Kheima, a relatively easy trip up the Corniche past Boulaq and the ring road. Tel: 4220 1670. Website: www.asfourcrystal.com. Open daily from 8 am-8 pm.