Built into the walls of the UNESCO-listed Erbil Citadel, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places on the planet, it is the second oldest teashop in Erbil. For 500 Iraqi Dinars [approximately forty cents U.S.], you can join the list of decades of patrons who have enjoyed a tea, while talking literature, art, journalism and politics. The teashop was opened in 1940 by Majid Ismail and is now run by his son.
This particular teashop is known to attract intellectuals, artists and academians. On my visit, a table of college professors sat across from me. Having met one of them on the street earlier that day, it was nice to see a familiar face amongst the locals.
The interior will transport you to days in the lost past of Kurdistan and may make you feel like you just stepped into an Indiana Jones film. As part of its traditional ambience, the walls are lined with rugs and old photos and there are also a huge number of books, which I suspect are free to be read while you enjoy your traditional tea or coffee.
According to several sources, many books were donated to the teahouse by a former KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] Minister, Shawkat Sheikh Yazdeen, who was a journalist and publisher. As the story goes, Yazdeen’s brother gave the teahouse a library of books after Yazdeen was killed. He was assassinated by terrorists in 2004 when the offices of the Kurdistan National Union and the Kurdistan Democratic Party were attacked. This detail, among other stories, adds to the historic nature of the Machko teahouse experience.
The teahouse looks on to a newly renovated Erbil Square at the foot of the historic Citadel in the heart of the city. It is the perfect place to people watch, if you can snag a seat outside. If you do, you will no doubt watch the local shoe shine boys, many of them Syrian refugees, sit on the curb and shine shoes for a small fee.
Erbil is slowly morphing into the region’s tourist hotspot, And investment and building projects are everywhere, yet there are thus far very few western tourists. So, before the trappings of western tourism take hold [three major high profile western fast food chains will open in Erbil in 2014], you should be sure to have a tea at the Machko and transport yourself to another place and time.