Qarafa, or The City of the Dead, is two 4 mile (6 km) long cemeteries - a north and south cemetery - dating from Mamluk times (1200s - 1500s) and is still in use today. Traditionally all families kept a mausoleum and these days some families use them for living in as well as for burials. Some families have been inhabiting the tombs for generations, some arrived more recently after the 1967 war displaced them from the canal zone. The north cemetery has more people residing in it and estimates are up to half a million people live there. These days there are shops, cafes and even a post-office within the cemeteries.
Many of the tombs themselves are quite grand and beautiful dating back centuries and in the Mamluk style. The northern cemetery is home to some of Cairo's most beautiful Mamluk monuments, such as the Mausoleums of Sultan Qaitbay and Sultan Barquq.
Review by Christine L, Australia, October 2010
The City of the Dead is located just east of Cairo, at the foot of the Moqattam Cliff. The easiest way to the Northern Cemetery is heading east from Midan al-Hussein along Sharia al-Azhar. As you crest the top of the hill, bear right, walk below the overpass and go straight along the road between the tombs. Follow this road to the left, then right. You'll pass by the crumbling, domed Tomb of Emir Tashtimur on your left. About 150m further on, a narrow lane goes left, passing under a stone archway. This is the gate to the former compound of Qaitbay, whose splendid mosque is immediately ahead.
It is a poor and conservative area so take care and be respectful when taking photographs. It is unsafe to go after dark.