Living In Cairo’s City Of The Dead

Life can be hard in the developing world, as is shown in this video of a poor neighborhood in Cairo done by IRIN Films. The film doesn’t show your typical slum. This is the City of the Dead, a vast necropolis where poor people have moved in and set up homes and shops inside the tombs.

The capital of Egypt is a sprawling metropolis of some 12.5 million people. Actually, nobody is really sure how many people there are. Cairo has been a huge city for many centuries, and so its necropolis is also huge, some four miles long and filled with tightly packed tombs and mausoleums. The dead have been buried here since the 7th century A.D. Most tombs are simple buildings with little inside except a basic stone marker. Thus poor people can move in, put a lock on the door, and have a ready-made home.

Like with Cairo, nobody knows exactly how many people live in the City of the Dead. Some say half a million; some say ten times that number. They scrape out a living working odd jobs in the city or taking care of tombs for more wealthy Egyptians. A lucky few have saved enough money to set up small businesses serving the needs of their neighbors. A whole city of life has sprung up among the bones of the dead.

%Gallery-159771%Many locals say they like the neighborhood. There’s a chronic housing shortage in Cairo and people here can have a much bigger place than they could ever afford in more traditional neighborhoods. Also, they say people here are friendlier. Perhaps the proximity of death makes folks more aware of their behavior, or perhaps they feel they’re all in the same boat and are thus kinder to their neighbors.

There are downsides too. Living in the tombs is illegal, although the government hasn’t done anything about it, and infrastructure is minimal. Still, the people of the City of the Dead have created their own community where most people wouldn’t even consider living.

Several companies in Cairo offer tours of the City of the Dead. This allows the locals to make some money off the curious who come to see life in the tombs.

Check out the gallery for more images of this strange neighborhood.