City of the Dead (Al-Arafa)
Certain families have been inhabiting the tombs for generations; some arrived more recently, after the 1967 war displaced them from the Suez Canal zone. It’s estimated that the north cemetery has up to half a million living residents. Many of the tombs are quite grand, dating back centuries and built in the Mamluk style. You’ll also see some of Cairo's most beautiful Mamluk monuments, such as the mausoleums of Sultan Qaitbay and Sultan Barquq.
Several guided tours combine visits to the City of the Dead with stops at the Mosque of Ibn Tulun and Cave Church.
Things to Know Before You Go
The City of the Dead is located in a poor, conservative area. Be respectful, and ask permission before taking photos.
Residents may ask you for baksheesh (a small sum of money) in exchange for your taking photos—this is best handled with the help of a guide.
For safety reasons, avoid visiting after dark.
Occasionally, travelers are denied access to the city because of security reasons. Be sure to confirm entry with your tour operator.
How to Get There
Just east of Cairo, the City of the Dead is situated at the foot of Mokattam Cliff. Because it’s easy to become lost in the mazelike area, consider going with a guide to help you navigate. Otherwise, head east from Midan al-Hussein along Sharia al-Azhar. As you crest the hill, bear right, walk below the overpass, and continue along the road between the tombs, passing the Tomb of Emir Tashtimur on your left.
When to Get There
Early morning is the best time to go to the City of the Dead. Avoid the area at night. Winter is the most popular season to visit Cairo because of the sunny weather, so expect the biggest crowds then. You’ll get the best deals during the city’s shoulder seasons: March and April, and October and November.
Living in the City of the Dead
Many of the people who live in this city within a city also work there—as cemetery caretakers, gravediggers, and vendors selling flowers to those visiting the tombs of their deceased loved ones. Some have started businesses to support the demands of the residents, such as barbershops and grocery stands.
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