CAIRO: While millions of Cairenes flock to Cairo’s overcrowded district of Al-Azhar to prepare for the holy month of Ramadan and buy dried fruits, nuts and dates known as yameesh, they are also keen to cherish a millennia-old tradition and get a Fanous (lantern,) an essential feature of Ramadan’s spiritual atmosphere.
In one of the tiny alleys of Taht al-Raba area, located at Cairo’s overcrowded district of Ataba, colorful fawanees (plural for fanous) can be seen hanging outside shops a week or so before the begging of the holy month. which falls this year on June 18.
“The fanous is not just a decoration and an entertainment for the children; it is a part of our culture. Ramadan without a famous is incomplete,” Salem Mohamed; a father of three teenagers said.
As Ramadan approaches, fanous makers are often seen in tiny workshops using basic tools, recycled cans, colored glass and a flame to create Ramadan’s most traditional piece of art, introduced to Egypt during the Fatimid era (969-1250.)
“When my boys were young, they preferred to have made-in-China Fawanees because they play music. But when they grew older, they preferred to have the handmade ones, just like their parents, either made of recycled tins, brass or copper,” said Mohamed.
The fanous was first used by Egyptians when they welcomed the arrival of the Fatimid Caliph El Muiz Le Din-Allah to Cairo by lighting hundreds of lanterns, Islamic and Coptic History Professor at Minya University Fathy Khourshid told The Cairo Post Tuesday.
“Since that time, El Muiz Le Din-Allah used to be escorted by fanous-carrying children as he went out every year to sight the Ramadan moon,” Khourshid said.
Fawanees come in different shapes and sizes, but the most traditional ones are made of recycled tins and take shapes of a minaret or a crescent. Modern fawanees take shapes of Winnie the Pooh, SpongeBob and Tweety, mainly imported from China and are popular among children.
The fanous, whether made in Egypt or imported, represents a unique symbol of the holy month of Ramadan that went on from one generation to the next.