Living among the Dead

The history of the City of the Dead dates back to the Caliphate Era, when the first graveyard of the conquering Arab commander was established. Throughout the Ottoman Era, the importance of these graveyards became less and less important, as the focus of the empire of moved away from what is now known as the City of the Dead. Despite this, the importance of the existing tombs and mausoleums were preserved in honour of the dead.

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What I liked about the City of the Dead was the fact that it is considered both a “living” and a “dead” part of Cairo. Since the days of the famous pharaohs, this area has been reckoned to have mysterious and magical powers, and those who are lucky enough to live and work among the tombs are blessed accordingly. I didn’t get too many photos close up of the tombs, as I was always wary about offending people nearby (or being mugged). I did get to climb atop some of the houses here though, and I got great views over the whole area!

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Not all of the residents will enjoy you being here
Not all of the residents will enjoy you being here

I will be honest: I didn’t see what was so magical about living among the tombs. The place was very dirty, and reminded me of Soweto Township in Johannesburg, what with the basic provisions on offer and the apparent lack of sanitation available. Effectively, this area is illegal, although the Egyptian authorities tolerate it. I am told the population of this “slum” at the City of the Dead nears 5 million, and the number grows year by year.

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Magical powers or just a slum?
Magical powers or just a slum?

Although I had no problems on my visit to The City of the Dead (albeit accompanied by my hotel guide and car), there are many sad tales of travellers being hassled and even assaulted by the residents who live here. The locals consider this to be a sacred place, where life not only ends, but begins also. In this case, they are not always too happy about the place becoming a tourist destination, so you should always consider the ramifications and ethics of visiting The City of the Dead. From downtown Cairo, my taxi and guide cost me around £15 for the entire day, and that included some food and drink – as well as the added personal security!

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