By Elizabeth Davis
When in the market for unique gifts or locally made home décor pieces, a day trip to Abha’s Souq al Thulatha or Tuesday market is a must.
The market is open seven days a week, but vendors and crowds swell on Tuesday, which is how the market got its day-of-the-week moniker.
Located in the Al Muftaha district off King Khaled Street, the market sits adjacent to the Asir Tourism office and the Al Muftaha Art Village. The circular-shaped souq is flanked by produce vendors that line the surrounding side streets with boxes and crates brimming with regional fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Ripened vibrantly-hued mangoes, grapes, tomatoes and eggplant are among the most common selection of produce for sale but shoppers can also find less pedestrian items like mangosteens, figs, leeks and even small containers of lichens, frankincense and myrrh.
A few vendors sell fresh chickens, which are plucked and slaughtered on-site, so it’s recommended that the faint-of-heart steer clear of this area.
The main market area is down a few modest stairs which open up to a corral of shops with two rows of free-standing shops in the middle.
Upon entry, an impressive assemblage of honey traders greet shoppers. Asir honey is world-famous and honey at the Tuesday Market trades hands much like stockbrokers on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s a hotly traded commodity.
Not your run-of-the-mill supermarket syrup dispensed from a plastic honey bear, Asir’s tawny humectant fetches top dollar and with good reason. The highly prized Sidr honey has been used throughout history for many medicinal purposes. This rare honey is thought to cure everything from liver disease, skin infections, respiratory illnesses to obesity.
Whether you’re interested in whipped or creamed honey or a kilo of sticky sweetener to add to your chamomile tea, prepare yourself for a bit of sticker shock. Prices range from SR 40 to SR 600.
For visitors interested in learning more about the region’s precious nectar, spend the day chatting-up the vendors to learn more about the fragrance, color and consistency of the world’s greatest and most expensive honey.
Moving beyond the honey, shoppers interested in handicrafts, jewelry and home goods should stick to the vendors in the outer loop, as the two center aisles of vendors feature mostly textiles, apothecary-like goods and clothing.
Beautifully crafted clay pots and traditional tandoori ovens are sold throughout the market at several vendors with some surfaces colorfully painted with flowers or tribal patterns.
Large gourds, traditionally used for water, are adorned with colorful rope and also make great home décor pieces.
Bedouin teapots with various shades of patina can be used as home accent pieces, adding a rich dimension to a house’s interior. From petite to grand, the variety of brass teapots for sale is plentiful, but can take a little hunting to find something unique or antique.
As ubiquitous as Bedouin teapots, handwoven straw baskets are available at many shops. From small and brightly colored boxes with leather tops to large bucket-shaped handbags, there is a straw-woven item for every taste.
A short stretch of shops cater to women, and their goods are worth a nice long look. If the shopper can look beyond the made in China necklaces and scarves they are likely to find some truly unique jewelry, but it takes effort. Many of the larger, older Bedouin necklaces and head ornaments get top dollar, so don’t expect to get a steal. Be prepared to pay a fair market price for jewelry with real stones or made of silver. You can find hand-strung necklaces made of coral, turquoise and a variety of quartz, but it takes patience and time.
Smile and ask questions. You will find some very unique pieces for sale if you know what to look for. A good selection of henna powders, Kohl liners, primitive clay vases and locally made animal skin drums are also found in the women section.
It may take a full day of perusing stalls, but Tuesday Market offers the opportunity to find one-of-a-kind items, as well as learn more about Asir’s people and history. One of the best ways to learn more about the world around you is to venture into your local market and have fun.