GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — “Gold not bought from Suq al-Qaysariyya market does not sparkle as it should,” Safa Shteiwi told Al-Monitor as she went from shop to shop among the arches of the historical market to buy herself a ring.
Suq al-Qaysariyya, the "Gold Market” in Gaza City's old quarter, is the largest gold and silver trade complex in Gaza.
Shteiwi said, “I could have bought the ring from any gold shop near my house in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, but I decided to drive to Suq al-Qaysariyya to visit this venue of Palestinian heritage and history.”
The market's establishment is the subject of speculation and various traditional tales. Locals say the structure was built during the Roman rule of the Gaza Strip in 63 B.C. and served as a stable for the army's horses before it became a popular market.
However, the director of archaeology at the Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology in Gaza, Hiam al-Bitar, told Al-Monitor, “The market was built during the rule of the Mamluks in Gaza in A.D. 1250, but it was inspired by the markets of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, and that’s why it is called Suq al-Qaysariyya," Arabic for Caesar Market.
She explained that it was first a leather market selling leather goods from shoes to saddles, and then a place to sell grains. Its role as a market of gold and other valuable metals began during the Ottoman rule in the Gaza Strip (1516-1920) and continues to this day.
Suq al-Qaysariyya is located on the southern side of the Great Mosque of Gaza, one of the oldest and greatest mosques in the Gaza Strip. The market itself is a small 3-meter-wide and 70-meter-long (10-foot by 230-foot) corridor covered with stone arches.
Small shops line both sides of the ancient market. An eastward courtyard contains modern and larger gold shops.
Suq al-Qaysariyya has two gates. The eastern gate is more beautiful than the western, characterized by distinguished oriental motifs, with stones inlaid with a mixture of red and white, giving it a unique aesthetic.
Samir Ayad, a 72-year-old owner of a gold shop in Suq al-Qaysariyya, told Al-Monitor he did not know when exactly his family bought the shop. He said that the shops are passed down from one generation to the next.
“I started working with my father when I was 8 years old. I started learning how to make gold bracelets and necklaces as well as gold liras weighing eight grams,” he added.
Ayad pointed out that traders in Gaza import gold from the West Bank, which imports it from Jordan and other Arab countries such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and then processes it locally to sell it in local markets. There are 40 gold-processing plants in Gaza.
Suq al-Qaysariyya is a destination for brides-to-be across the Gaza Strip. According to Palestinian customs, brides allocate a third of their trousseau, averaging about $4,500, to buy the gold wedding accessories that make up their savings for the future.
Mona al-Yaziji accompanied her 18-year-old daughter Asma to Suq al-Qaysariyya to buy gold for her wedding, to be celebrated in two months. “This market smells different. One can smell the fragrance of ancient history in here,” she told Al-Monitor.
“When I was preparing for my wedding party about 20 years ago, I came here with my mother and bought my gold jewelry. Today I am buying my daughter's jewelry from this very market, and from the same shop. I always like to pass through this market even if I do not need anything because it brings back memories and a sense of stability and peace.”
According to local gold exchange prices, 1 gram of 10 karat gold is worth $17.60. The price of 24 karat gold is $42.40.
Yaacoub Shaheen, the director of the precious metals department at the Ministry of National Economy, told a local economic website on Feb. 28 that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are estimated to have about 80 tons of gold. He explained that 7-9 tons of gold is available in Palestinian shops, and the rest is possessed by citizens.
Zuhair Tabaza, an owner of another gold shop in the market, told Al-Monitor, “I have worked with my father in this shop since 1975. The market has never experienced a similar recession before. Back then, 40 customers would visit our shop on a daily basis compared to 10 nowadays.”
The real estate value of the shops in Suq al-Qaysariyya continues to increase by the day. “Shop rentals in this market range between $7,000 and $15,000 a month,” Tabaza said.
“The closer a shop is to the two gates, the higher its price,” he added, and explained that rent for other shops around the market do not exceed $5,000 a month.