City of the Dead

In the midst of Egypt, there is a cemetery unlike any other cemetery. Four miles long, with thousands upon thousands of tombs and mausoleums. It is the Cairo Necropolis.

Aerial photo taken from a balloon in 1904 by Eduard Spelterini
Aerial photo taken from a balloon in 1904 by Eduard Spelterini

The City of the Dead (as it’s also known) first began in 642 CE. Two years after leading the Muslim conquest of Egypt, military leader ‘Amr ibn al-‘As established a family grave site there. It slowly grew outward from the tomb at Mount Mokattam and continues to grow today.

A 1929 image of the tomb at Mount Mokattam by Herbert Ricke
A 1929 image of the tomb at Mount Mokattam by Herbert Ricke

The tombs seen in the Necropolis are built to look like small homes. It is because of this that impoverished peoples began to live in the faux city. And while an economic boom in the early 16th century allowed for people to begin moving out, things have steadily brought residents back in ever since. For centuries, the City of the Dead was not just inhabited by the dead, but those who had no alternatives.

Photo by Khalil Hamra / AP
Photo by Khalil Hamra / AP

Come 1992, a 5.8 earthquake hit Cairo, destroying many homes killing 545, and injuring 6,512. About 50,000 people were homeless within a day. Many of these people also moved into the tombs of family members, increasing the number of living among the dead. Currently, there are estimates of half a million people or more living in the Necropolis.

The City of the Dead today. Photo by Dennis Jarvis
The City of the Dead today.
Photo by Dennis Jarvis

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