The City of the Dead, locally called Al Qarafa, is the historical and monumental cemetery of Cairo...

The City of the Dead, locally called Al Qarafa, is the historical and monumental cemetery of Cairo. The place is currently inhabited by about 800,000 people who have occupied the funeral chapels and mausoleums used for the burial of the dead, making them their permanent dwellings. As a matter of fact tomb-dwellings were used as a shelter by the most indigent people since the fourteenth century. Later on, due to the massive demographic increase together with the failure of governmental housing policies, an impressive amount of poor people coming both from rural and urban areas have squatted the funerary buildings and their small rooms -originally built to accommodate the deceased’s family during the morning period-as well the buildings originally dedicated to the pilgrims and to the guardians of the tombs. Not with standing it is ranked nineteenth place in the list of the world’s largest slums - four of which currently located in Cairo - the City of the Dead is very different from other slums with their typical characters.

The differences are due to the peculiar phenomenon of co-habitation between the living and the dead, as well as to the great historical and architectural value both of the urban fabric and of the buildings. All these characters make the place an unique case in the world. The characters of other shanty towns are totally absent here: the residential areas are not overcrowded, the cemetery has a recognizable and ordered structure and it is full of green areas. Moreover, comparing it to other cemeteries, the dryness of climate and soil has made these places more “adapted” for living. However ‘living in a tomb’ is still a taboo for the rest of the of Cairo’s citizens, which perceive the cemetery as the extreme and degraded margin of the city.

The place has been long stigmatized by the authorities as a dangerous place with a high level of crime, making it almost inaccessible to tourists and scholars. Indeed many of the inhabitants of the City of the Dead are actually workers in the factories in the near neighborhoods, or developed informal and mostly unprofitable activities related to burial cults and needs (stonemasons, grave diggers, readers of the Koran) or local crafts. Furthermore many areas have been hopelessly compromised following policies of clearing and demolitions, in order to leave the field to new and profitable real estate speculations. The new Strategic Plan for Cairo (Cairo 2050) foreshadows nearly the total demolition of the area and the relocation of the resident communities without any regard for their activities and their relations to the place.

During the 2007 Liveinslums started a multidisciplinary research project in Cairo, in collaboration with Politecnico di Milano and FEDA - Faculty of Engineer, Design and Architecture of the Ain Shams University in Cairo. This project aims to preserve the anthropological and architectural heritage of the City of the Dead. The first step of the project was the creation of an informal Urban Center inside the cemetery, located in one of the typical burying structure called hosh. That hosh has become a meeting point for a series of social and cultural events (e.g. laboratories, urban design workshops, table meetings with the residents, exhibitions) realized in strictly cooperation with the resident community. Since the 2009 another project based on sustainable tourism has been developed within a respectful approach and a relational attitude towards both the physical structure and the social Pattern (Slow Tourism). The project included the study of four possible tourist tracks in the Northern cemetery area, the formation of local tourist guides, and the publication of a travel guide for visiting the City of the Dead and join the project giving the travelers the chance of adding their own experience and info to the guide (City of the Dead - Liveinslums City Guide).

In 2010 the first micro-garden pilot project has been set up in collaboration with the Master “Extraordinary Landscape” Naba- Politecnico di Milano and with the company “Green Environment Consultant” as local partner.

Archplan (2006-2008)
Facoltà di Architettura Politecnico di Milano (2006-2008)
FEDA Ain Shams University Cairo (2006-2008) American University Cairo (2009-2010)
Desert Developement Center (2009-2010)
Green Cairo (2010-2011)
Università degli Studi di Milano Facoltà di Agraria (2010-2011)
Master Paesaggi Straordinari Naba-Politecnico (2010-2011)

HEAD QUARTER Liveinslums ex-Opificio via Tortona 31, Milano / CF: 97558730152

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