The City of the Dead in Cairo is one of the strangest and most different visits you will make during your days in Egypt, especially because it is a unique location that only exists in Cairo: there is nothing like it anywhere in the world.


Located under the mountain of MokattamIn this arid and windy area, it is a huge cemetery converted into a city where the mausoleums, pantheons and tombs are houses in which entire families live, who have been gradually occupying the area for many decades, especially since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, better known as the Six-Day War. The first displaced persons from the Suez Canal zone landed there and, since then, the arrival of entire families without homes and with unsatisfied basic needs in a gigantic city of 20 million inhabitants has not ceased.

Right now, Cairo’s City of the Dead covers 7 square kilometers and it is uncertain how many people live inside because everything is very changeable and it is difficult to enter some areas. But it is estimated that the population living there exceeds 50,000 people. There is no electricity or running water, some families have built homes in tombs or mausoleums of their own ancestors while most have settled in the pantheons of strangers.

In Cairo this neighborhood or city is known as El Arafa and it is a truism to say that it is a far cry from the characteristic sepulchral silence of most cemeteries in the world. And for the tourist visiting the Egyptian capital, it is an essential point to understand a fundamental aspect of the contrasts of Cairo and that will remain forever etched in memory.

But it is not only housing that has been installed in the City of the Dead. There are also mechanic workshops, grocery stores, artisan and goldsmith shops, coffee shops and other precarious businesses that contribute to the self-sufficiency of this particular corner and ratify its status as a city within the big city.

And, of course, it is a cemetery that houses a rich architectural heritage, such as the tombs of sultans, princes and princesses of the Fatimid (909-1171 A.D.) and Mamluk (1250-1517 A.D.) dynasties and also of the defunct Egyptian monarchy. In many cases, those who have occupied these mausoleums take great pride in their preservation and care.

What to see in the City of the Dead

  • Mausoleum of Princess Fathia. An imposing mausoleum of the descendant of a khedive, the title given to the viceroy of Egypt, killed by her husband. It is currently protected by Mohamed Sadek and his family, who live there.
  • Mausoleum of Sultan Al Ashraf Qaytbay. It is a palace complex located in the middle of the City of the Dead. There is a project financed by the European Union to restore it, as it is a jewel of the Mamluk period of the 15th century.
  • Stores and cafeterias. Although the name of the city is a bit scary and that years ago it was a dangerous neighborhood, as it continues to attract more and more tourist interest, the City of the Dead has been reconverted and has taken advantage of the pull for the benefit of its inhabitants. So touring its handicraft stores and cafes, all set up among the tombs, is an experience not to be missed. And that you can do without any risk.
  • Mausoleum of Mohammed Ali’s family. This sultan is considered the founder of modern Egypt, as he made fundamental reforms within the country and managed to end its dependence on the great economic powers, especially the nearby Ottoman Empire.
  • Mosque of Sultan Sayf al-Din Inal. One of the most important sultans of the Mamluk period.
  • Visiting a house among tombs. In recent years and thanks to the expansion of tourism in Egypt, many agencies coordinate guided tours for tourists in the City of the Dead and which include the possibility of knowing a domestic space.

Basic rules for visiting the City of the Dead

  • Photos with respect. Do not take pictures of people without first asking permission, because they may be offended and very offended. Even if they don’t speak your language, try to make yourself understood by asking them if they agree to be photographed. In some cases they will ask you for money, just a few Egyptian pounds that will mean nothing to you and a lot to them, and you will leave with a unique souvenir.
  • Don’t just jump in anywhere. Watch where you walk and never go inside if you see an open door. Remember that this is a place where the tombs are houses, that is, private spaces where people live. And if you feel like going somewhere, do the same as the photos: ask respectfully.

How to get to the City of the Dead

The City of the Dead is located 5 kilometers from the center of Cairo, which is close to the large size of the Egyptian capital. Although you can go on your own in a cab or private car, for safety reasons it is advisable to be accompanied by a local guide and to go on a guided tour. It is the most practical and safe way to visit the site and get the most out of it.

Visiting hours and prices

Obviously, there is no timetable for visiting a city, but it is recommended to do so during daylight hours to make the most of your stay and to be able to clearly see the architecture of the tombs and their conversion into houses. The prices will depend on the guide service you hire and vary if you do only a panoramic visit or if, in addition, you access a domestic space or the mausoleums and mosques inside the necropolis.

Photos of The City of the Dead

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