City of the Dead (Cairo)

City of the Dead 400
City of the Dead
Photo by: Charlie Phillips, Creative Commons

City of the Dead (Cairo) is a place that has a strange practice: the residents live with the dead. The four-mile area occupied by piles of tombs and mausoleums also holds a thriving community of live people. Known as El Arafa or “the cemetery” by its residents, City of the Dead is an example of cemetery-cum-city dwelling place. For the modern mind-set, this practice might seem bizarre. For some of its inhabitants, this is their own way of being close with their ancestors. For others, they live here because other places offer harsh accommodation rates. Most of the residents earn their living by being tomb keepers.

This place will give you a taste of Egypt’s urban poor living. Approximately 5 million Egyptians live in the City of the Dead (Cairo) with scattered population in its five main cemeteries namely, Bab el Nasr Cemetery, Northern Cemetery, Southern Cemetery, el Wazir Cemetery and Cemetery of the Great. It is not a surprise that above almost every tomb lives at least one family.

The city is great for anthropological research since the separation of mostly urban poor population from the rest of the Cairo’s residents brings lessons on the different lifestyles. An empty tomb may serve as a family’s sleeping room. A grave marker is good as table for food or desk for belongings. The mausoleum serves as shelter from rain and sun. The people hung wires from gravestone to gravestone and use them to dry the clothes.

Every tourist will consider the immersion on this place as life changing especially in the Northern Cemetery. As you walk through the city/cemetery, you will bask in silence as if you have entered another dimension of enchantment. It is also recommended that you view the rooms holding the coffins of the dead from all generations.

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