Zane't El-Settat: A haunted market

Ameera Fouad, Tuesday 19 Jun 2012

Zane't El-Settat, is an old market where a shopper can find almost anything: a market with memories of Egypt's notorious women serial killers

Zaniet Al Settat

Zane't El Settat is a compound of alleys with houses being constructed in one or two storey floors  that date back to the Ottoman Period in the eighteenth century.

Zane't El-Setat (women's market) in the coastal city of Alexandria unfolds a world of its own. It is a compound of alleys with one or two-storey houses that date back to the Ottoman Period in the eighteenth century. People inhabit these houses with an intimate interaction and  a great sense of familiarity.  It is not difficult to imagine women wearing their traditional melaya (black cloth they used to wear over their dresses in the old days) or even hear the jiggling of their anklets.

What particularly distinguishes this place, is that it is a shopping area like no other. It even beats the Khan El-Khalili market, one of Cairo’s foremost tourist attractions. At Zane’t El-Setat, you can find anything and everything you need. Did I said everything? Yes. It is a shopping heaven for women. From cloth to jewellery, and from toys to computer supplies are sold there.

Tucked away in the Manshia district, this market was first created in the beginning of the twentieth century. In popular culture, it is associated with the notorious women serial killers, Raya and Sakeena.

According to Salah Eissa’s book, Raya and Sakeena 's Men: Social and Political Biography, the two women are not all that different from characters from one of Agatha Christie thrilling novels. As told by Al-Ahram newspaper in November 1921, this is the story: "With all the milieu and the atmosphere of killings and suspicions, these two females along with eight male supporters took the lives of more than fifteen women in less than three years.”

Raya and Sakeena spread terror and horror in the hearts of Alexandrians at the beginning of the first half of the twentieth century. In a district called El-Labban, nearby Zane't El-Setat, the two killers drew their victims from Zane't El-Setat, killing them for their jewellery.

They began their killings in November 1919. The reports of several witnesses said that police officers, after several reports of missing girls, discovered the skull and remains of a woman.

Suspicions turned to Sakeena, a previous tenant in that building. The scent soon led to Raya -- literally. Within a week, police unearthed 15 female corpses and the remains of two other women in a number of buildings which security authorities learned Raya and Sakina used for the purposes of prostitution.

Though Raya and Sakeena were sentenced to death on 16 May 1921 after being put on trial for murdering more than seventeen women, they are still present in the memory of Zan'et El-Setat alleys and narrow passages for that is where they chose their jewellery-decked victims.

The story has been the subject of several television series and films, giving Zane't El-Setat a certain status as a historical place. That is why, it is almost impossible to visit Zan'et El-Setat without asking where Raya and Sakeena lived.

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