The Glassblowers of Cairo

Cairo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. To put it into perspective Cairo has a population of approximately 20 million people, (just less than the entire population of Australia) and there is a suburb that is home to approximately 4.5 million people (approximately the population of Melbourne). In this suburb down an unpaved road there are a number of brick buildings which are home to many factories and apartments. It is here, amongst the cacophony of noise and mayhem of urban Cairo, 8 men come to work and make beautiful glassware and ornaments.

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All of the men have their own work station where they lay the tools of their trade amongst cups of tea and coffee and their personal belongings. Beside each station is a tank of LPG gas which is connected to a valve that produces the flame needed to blow the glass. The colour and heat of the flame varies depending upon the flow of gas, oxygen and air they require for different aspects of the process. Each worker can make from 35 to 55 pieces each day depending upon the complexity of the piece being created. Many require multiple steps; from heating the glass to achieve the required shape, adding colour, etching and creating design.

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These men range in ages but their stories are similar. Typically, they started their journey towards becoming artisans of glassblowing as young children during their school holidays when they would come to the workshop with their father doing odd jobs and resupplying the workmen with the basic glass supplies and LPG gas tanks. When they finished school they would start working full time, practicing their skills and developing their talents until they gained the experience and expertise to start creating the designs. Often entire families are glassblowers with the skills being passed down from father to son, generation to generation.

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It is amazing to see a simple tube of glass become a stunning Christmas bauble, candleholder or tea set.  The workshop is not fancy but the end product is something beautiful to behold. These men are immensely proud of their work and rightly so, they are true artisans.