The city of the dead in Cairo, Egypt
City of the Dead (Qarafa, Arafa) is a four mile long cemetery from northern to southern part of Cairo, situated along the base of the Moqattam Hills, just nearby Cairo downtown. Currently there are 5 major cemeteries – the Northern Cemetery, Bab el Nasr Cemetery, the Southern Cemetery, the Cemetery of the Great, and Bab el Wazir.
It is both an ancient cemetery and a living part of Cairo. In the past, Egypt’s rulers used this area to bury their dead, for at the time it was located outside of the city itself. However, history has shown that since the time of the pharaohs this was regarded as a place where life begins. Many of Cairo’s citizens think of the City of the Dead as a mysterious, magical and foreboding area.
The cemeteries that form the City of the Dead are quite different from those found in western societies. This is because Egyptians traditionally buried the deceased in room-like tombs that also served as temporary housing for relatives during the requisite forty-day mourning period. That is why the City of the Dead looks like a typical residential area. If you have a look behind the walls, you will find graves and tombs as well as laundry, beds and other possessions belonging to the living. It is a bustling grid of tombs and mausoleums where people live and work amongst their dead ancestors. This is a poor, urban Egyptian community that is an essentially illegal – but tolerated – separate society. Some say that more than five million Egyptians live there, engaged in whatever work they can find. The population of the City of the Dead is growing rapidly due to continuing migration and a complicated nation-wide housing crisis.