Life in the City of the Dead

Cairo’s el-Arafa necropolis, known as the City of the Dead, is home to many of the living, too. Tens of thousands of people have made their homes in mausoleums and among the tombs.

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Life in the City of the Dead

Cairo’s el-Arafa necropolis, known in English as the City of the Dead has been around for some 700 years, and still functions as a cemetery. A million or so have been interred there over the centuries. And tens of thousands of people—no-one quite knows how many—live in the cemetery today. In the overcrowded, densely populated Egyptian capital, the City of the Dead has been home to some families for generations.

The tombs in the City of the Dead are in walled compounds. Covered stairways, one for men and one for women, lead down into the crypts, and narrow walkways wind between the compounds. Above ground, in some compounds, people have put up regular houses; others live among the tombs themselves. Running water and a sewage system have been introduced to the necropolis, though access to them can be limited. Many families live in cramped conditions, in one-room or two-room homes. But in busy, bustling Cairo, the City of the Dead has an aura of calm.

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