Sunday afternoon is the only time a drive through Beirut could be leisurely; the streets are a terrible stressor on any other day of the week. On Sunday, they are deserted, and no car-horns can be heard.
But beyond the Eastern end of Beirut, the traffic does not alleviate on Sundays. One of the obvious reasons of the congestion is the Sunday Souk, locally known as the Souk el-Ahad. Neighboring the Beirut Art Center, the souk is situated in the Sin el-Fil district. You’ll know you’ve arrived once you have spotted a mass of people eager to muster their way into the bazaar arena that is confined by hovering tarpaulins.
Although referred to as the Sunday Souk, and contrary to popular belief, the marketplace is open on both Saturdays and Sundays. But because many of the merchants balance a permanent Monday-Saturday job alongside their weekend stint, Sunday remains to be the busiest day with the highest booth-count.
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The souk has been infamously considered low-end, and middle-class locals often dismiss it as a black market. The products on some booths do call for suspicion. The exotic pet section, where one can often find parrots and monkeys for sale, continuously raises eyebrows.
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Otherwise, the majority of vendors sell everyday products, from electric appliances to spices, at a cheaper cost than retail stores. Other merchants offer vintage goods, ranging from bilingual typewriters to saxophones. Brand clothing knock-offs are common; Timberland boots seemed to be popular this past fall, and could be spotted on at least thirty different booths, ranging from $10-$70.
At a 150,000 L.L. ($100) booth rental fee for each weekend, few merchants make considerable profits. Still, the same faces dominate the market year after year. New faces appear each year, and 2012 had brought in many Syrian immigrants hoping for a new source of income in the market.
The souk undeniably has retained its charm within the past years and has not gone unnoticed by tourists and travel media. After all, it is the only permanent flea market in the country. High-end retail outlets, such as the large-scale ABC mall and the newly-opened Beirut Centre, do not maintain the close-knit buzz the Sunday Souk boasts each weekend.
Souk el-Ahad is not for the faint-hearted, though. Prices are not necessarily set in stone, and foreigners are likely to be bamboozled by the vendors. Moreover, the market is densely populated; thefts do happen and one should always keep a close eye on their belongings.
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