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Thursday, January 21, 2016

In Cairo’s ‘City of the Dead,’ life goes on - The Washington Post

In Cairo's 'City of the Dead,' life goes on

In a metropolitan area with with an estimated population of 20 million, it can be hard to find a suitable living space. Thousands of people over the decades have gravitated toward the Cairo Necropolis, the city's oldest burial site.  There, in the Islamic cemetery that dates back to 7th century A.D., they have found shelter, living side by side with the city's deceased.

Some of the families that live in Cairo's 'City of the Dead' have been around for three or four generations, living among the million or so tombs that include famous film stars like Farid al-Atrash and his sister, Asmahan, who graced the silver screen into the 1960s.

Many of the people who call this place home also work there — taking care of the tombs, digging graves and even selling flowers to those who come to visit the graves on Fridays. According to a report by Reuters, "A caretaker typically gets 150 Egyptian pounds ($19) for each new grave dug for poor families, and between 400 and 500 Egyptian pounds from richer customers, residents say. Of that, the gravedigger then receives between 50 to 70 Egyptian pounds."

In addition to those who take care of the graves, small businesses have cropped up to cater to the needs of the living residents, allowing them to buy vegetables and milk from vendors and even grab a quick shave from a barber who has set up shop with a chair on one of the many graves. All of these things come together to form a city within a city, a place in a severely crowded metropolis to call home.