Called el’arafa by locals, the four mile long Islamic cemetery and necropolis lies below the Mokattam Hills in southeastern Cairo. But it is not only a home for the dead. Half a million or so of the living also inhabit the vast area where they reside among the tombs of their ancestors.
A certain comfort is thought to be found for those living so close to their deceased ancestors though they are not always treated with respect by outsiders who fear both their perceived morbid desire to reside with the dead and the crime and drug taking that is believed to have increased since the 25 January Revolution in 2011.
Dating back to the Seventh century, many of the tombs are more akin to tiny dwellings occasionally surrounded by surprisingly lush ‘gardens’. On the outskirts of some areas concrete apartment blocks have also sprung up. No surprises there though. Egypt’s population of 95 million is rapidly expanding at a staggering rate of 33.3 percent. At least 20 million inhabit Cairo’s metropolitan area where the majority live in abject poverty in extremely crowded conditions so el’arafa offers some kind of replacement for the poor. Its residents now have a few schools, many shops, fruit and vegetable stalls, electricity, hot water, a medical centre, garages, a post office, madrasas, Sufi colleges, and of course, a plethora of mosques.
(All photography by Tina Bexson)