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Empress Market: From royalty to ruins

July 10, 2012


File Photograph of Empress Market by Eefa Khalid and Nadir Siddiqui /

The Empress Market, located in Saddar, is one of the busiest places in Karachi.

A fruit supplier sits by his stall at the Empress Market in Karachi. — Photo by Miqdad Sibtain and Anika Dyer

It traces its origins back to the British era when it was first constructed, and since then has undergone significant changes. Today, it is a market hosting all kinds of fruits, vegetables, meat, textile materials, fish and other eatables. This market also has numerous pet shops which sell different kinds of birds and other animals.

It was constructed between 1884 and 1889, and was named after Queen Victoria, the empress of India. The building was designed by James Strachan while the foundations were completed by A.J Attfield, an English firm. The construction was carried out by the ‘Mahoomed Niwan and Dulloo Khejoo’ firm. This building occupies an area of 130ft by 100ft, with four galleries, each 46ft wide. This market consists of almost 280 shops, and at the time of construction, it was one of the seven markets that existed in Karachi. It is one of the very few historical buildings which exist in Karachi, and the old clock, placed above the entrance, is a central feature of this building.

A view of the busy trade life of the Empress Market. — Photo by Miqdad Sibtain and Anika Dyer

Many people from all over Karachi come to this market for shopping, despite its location in one of the most congested areas of the city. However, like in all other markets and trading points, various issues are encountered by the shopkeepers and traders. Liaquat Ali, the president of the empress market traders, spoke about the various problems that the customers and shop keepers face. He explained how the roads surrounding this market and the adjacent areas were usually jammed, which created problems for the people looking to park their vehicles.

A piece of meat lying on a counter at one of the meat shops at the Empress Market. — Photo by Miqdad Sibtain and Anika Dyer

Hygiene is also a major problem that exists there, the meat shops being one of the most unhygienic ones. The sewerage problem is the root cause of this, explains Ali. Although the KMC (Karachi Municipal Corporation) is supposed to have solved this problem, it still persists throughout the market.

“We have to hire our own sweepers to clean our shops and keep the market clean, as the KMC and the staff there turn a blind eye to this problem.”He further points out, “Many shops are given illegally to different people, and the government is ignorant towards this problem.” “The government is already corrupt; the people are only interested in making money and not in anything else,” Ali says.

A vegetable stall at the Empress Market. — Photo by Miqdad Sibtain and Anika Dyer

Roshan Sheikh, the commissioner of Empress Market also expressed serious concern over this problem and said that they aim to turn out all the illegal traders from the market after Eidul Azha.

A major fire took place on March 27, 2011, which affected about 25 per cent of the market, in which over 70 shops were burnt, and after which a large number of traders and shop keepers were left without an income. According to officials at the market, no compensation was provided by the government to the shopkeepers, and all the shops were renovated and rebuilt by the shopkeepers themselves. This caused a huge blow to the businesses of many people, who incurred heavy losses after this fire.

“We expected that the government would help us in rebuilding these shops, but they did nothing,” laments Ali.

There was also a drop in the number of people visiting this market after the fire, and many shop keepers have still remained unable to recover from these losses.

The government currently aims to expand the market and further reroute it with Shahab and Farukh Market. The fish market has also been shifted to Lines Area, because that area is being renovated by the government.

A lot has to be done by the government, in terms of time, money and effort.

“The government should take into account all these problems, address them, and solve them in the best possible manner, to help us and the people as a whole,” states Ali.

— Written by Miqdad Sibtain and Anika Dyer