Al Qarafa: not exactly a shantytown nor a cementary. But a bit of both
In the capital of Egypt, there’s a particular Muslim cemetery that emerges on the Nile’s oriental river bank. This cemetery, Al-Qarafa, also called “City of the Dead” was likely founded in in 684 AD and is characterized by the coexistence of the living and the dead. It is also considered an open-air museum due to its great historical and artistical heritage.
Qarafa is divided into several cemeteries, that are in turn divided into two larger cemeteries: al-Qarafa al-Kobra and al-Qarafa al Soghra.The exact number of people living in this shanty town is not known. Some say there might be half a million people, but some sources say it is up to a million people, all of which are living in a dense grid crowded with tombs, mausoleums, and burial monuments at the feet of the Mokattam hill.
Even if historically the space designated for the cemeteries was only a part of an urban area in the city, the population in the “City of the Dead” increased in the 60s due to a large migration wave that brought many inhabitants from the countryside to Cairo, following the industrialization promoted by president Nasser.The city was not prepared to accommodate all those people, and therefore many ended up living in Al-Qarafa, transforming that which was an urban neighbourhood into a shanty town.
The burials are now dedicated to agriculture and the cenotaphs are used as cooking bases or house gardens. “For the government, we are already dead as well”, some inhabitants say. The present situation, even though it is not “approved” by the Egyptian government, is either way tolerated and considered a matter of fact that is difficult to change: evicting those who live there would deprive too many people of everything they own.