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.

Previously unknown Egyptian pharaoh discovered

Karnak, Egyptian pharaoh

Egyptologists have made a stunning discovery at the famous temple of Luxor: an inscription naming a previously unknown Egyptian pharaoh.

A French team restoring a temple of Amon Ra found hieroglyphs bearing the name “Nekht In Ra.” The inscription dates to the 17th dynasty, a relatively little-known dynasty from a murky period in Egyptian history.

The mysterious dynasty was the last of the Second Intermediate Period, a time when northern Egypt was ruled by Semitic invaders called the Hyksos and the rest of Egypt had fragmented into various factions. The 17th dynasty dated from around 1585 to 1550 BC and had their capital at Thebes, next to Luxor. Most of the dates of its rulers are not known for certain and in many cases it’s not even known how long they ruled or who was related to whom. Thus the discovery of a “new” pharaoh, while important, doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

It’s unclear just how Nekht In Ra fits into the king list of the ten previously known 17th dynasty pharaohs. The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has called for further excavation at the discovery site to find more pieces to the puzzle.

While the 17th dynasty is obscure, it was hugely important to Egyptian history because the last two pharaohs waged war on the Hyksos and eventually defeated them, although both pharaohs appear to have died in battle. The 18th dynasty marked the beginning of the New Kingdom, a flowering of Egyptian culture and power that lasted five centuries.

Several interesting items survive from the 17th dynasty and are now on display. Check out the gallery for a sample.

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Photo of entrance into the Precinct of Amon-Re courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Egypt to reopen Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor

Egypt, Luxor
The Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim has announced that the Avenue of Sphinxes in Luxor will reopen in March after a long period of restoration.

Egypt, LuxorLuxor is a sprawling complex of temples and one of the greatest monuments of the ancient world. The Avenue of Sphinxes is a long road stretching 2.7 kilometers flanked by hundreds of sphinxes. It was built by the Pharaoh Nectanebo I (ruled 380-362 BC) to replace and earlier one built by Queen Hatshepsut (ruled 1502-1482 BC).

While some stretches of the avenue have always been visible, much of it was buried or destroyed over the centuries. Now the entire length is being restored as part of an ongoing project to improve the entire site.

The opening is planned to coincide with next year’s Berlin International Tourism Market. Egypt is anxious to draw tourists back to the country after the recent political instability. Considering the current protests in Cairo, the government has a lot of work to do before March.

Top image courtesy Przemyslaw “Blueshade” Idzkiewicz. Bottom image courtesy Dennis Jarvis.

Ancient Christian city discovered in Egypt

EgyptAn ancient Christian city dating to the fourth century AD has been discovered in Egypt.

Archaeologists digging at the Ain al-Sabil area of the New Valley Governorate have discovered the remains of a basilica and buildings to serve the priests. This is the first excavation at the site and researchers hope more discoveries will be made under the Egyptian sands.

Egyptian Christians trace their history back to just after the Crucifixion, when Saint Mark preached in the country. Called the Copts, these Christians make up anywhere from 5-23% of the population. Estimates vary so widely because the actual number is a politically contentious issue. Most sources agree that about 10% is the correct figure, meaning slightly more than 8 million people.

Copts have faced discrimination and deadly attacks ever since the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the seventh century AD. Periods of tolerance have alternated with periods of increased persecution. In recent years there have been many attacks against Egypt’s Coptic community, and Copts say the authorities have done little to help. Copts are most visible in towns such as Cairo and Minya. Cairo has an excellent Coptic Museum. About four million Copts live overseas and there is a community of about half a million in the Sudan.

The fourth century AD, on the other hand, was a high point in Coptic history. The majority of Egyptians were Christian at that time and Egyptian monasteries started the Christian monastic movement.

Image of Coptic icon of St. John the baptist courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Egyptologists get back to work despite continuing tensions

Egyptologists
Egypt has been in the news again this week with more tensions between the people and the army. What has received less coverage is the fact that Egyptologists are quietly resuming their work after an unwanted vacation. You can’t keep a good Egyptologist down, and these folks are busy making discoveries and taking care of the country’s fabulous monuments. Old projects are getting back into gear, and new excavations are starting up.

An international plan to protect the fabulous temples at Luxor from ground water has resumed operations. The water is eating away at the foundations of Luxor, Karnak, and other temples and the team hopes to divert it to a nearby reservoir.

Earlier this month, construction workers stumbled upon an ancient tomb with a hieroglyphic inscription in the suburbs of Cairo. An archaeological team hurried to the site and discovered it dated to the 26th Dynasty (c.685-525 BC).

A lot of looting happened after what the Egyptian press refers to as the “events in January”. Luckily, some of it is being recovered. Egyptian Tourism and Antiquities Police recovered a painted limestone relief that had been stolen from a warehouse.

Some Egyptologists are making discoveries without even going to Egypt. Dr. Aidan Dodson of the University of Bristol, UK, walked into the Torquay Museum and realized a sarcophagus they had on display was an extremely rare one intended for royalty. Further investigation revealed that the child that had been buried with it was in fact 1,000 years younger than his casket. Elaborate coffins were expensive, so the grieving parents decided to save some money, dumped out the previous occupant, and put Junior inside.

Hopefully this field season will be a good one, and there’ll be plenty of Egyptology news to talk about here on Gadling.

[Karnak photo courtesy Sean Ellis]