NileGuide Expert Says:
The City of the Dead is a fascinating area of Cairo with some exquisite Mamluk architecture
East of Cairo, Foot of Moqattam Cliff
tel: +20 2 285 4509
NileGuide Expert tip:
The City of the Dead is a very poor and conservative area, so make sure you are dressed appropriately, don't flash your wealth, and ensure you ask permission before taking photos of people.
Qarafa, or the City of the Dead, is situated in the east of Islamic Cairo, stretching from the foot of the Citadel to the Muqattam Hills. The City of the Dead is actually two cemeteries, dating back to Mamluk times: a southern cemetery, and a northern cemetery. Traditionally, every family in Cairo would maintain some sort of mausoleum, somewhere in Cairo, where family members were buried. To this day, the cemeteries are still in use. As well as for the dead, the cemeteries provide homes for the living. Families live within the mausoleums. Some have been there for generations, and look after the tombs for their owners. Others are more recent, tolerated squatters, many of whom were displaced from the canal zone during the 1967 war. No-one knows for sure how many people live in the City of the Dead, though it's probably in the region of half a million. It is possible to visit the cemeteries. The southern cemetery is only sparsely inhabited, though it is an eerily atmospheric place to wander around. Some of the tombs are hundreds of years old; others are more recent. Some years back, the area had a reputation as the home of thieves and drug dealers, and you should certainly avoid the southern cemetery at night. The northern cemetery of the City of the Dead is where most of the people live. It feels more like a peaceful, though poor residential area. There are even a handful of shops and cafes, and many of the inhabitants live quite normal lives. The northern cemetery is home to some of Cairo's most beautiful Mamluk monuments, such as the Mausoleums of Sultan Qaitbey and Sultan Barquq. It's best to visit the area with the help of a guide, though it is possible to do on your own. Don't stray too far from the main paths, and it's best not to linger long past sunset.