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Threat of demolition looms over Cairo’s historic necropolis

A group of architects, historians and other heritage enthusiasts have launched a campaign to safeguard the City of the Dead in the face of the government’s new infrastructure plans.
This aerial view shows the City of the Dead (bottom L), near the Darassa district, Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 15, 2021.

CAIRO, Egypt — Since the arrival of the Arab conquerors in Egypt in the 7th century, the plain at the foot of the Mukattam hills, southeast of present-day Cairo, has served as an important burial site for the country. There lie prominent figures such as Amr ibn al-As, the Arab Muslim commander who led the conquest of Egypt and served as its governor for years.

From that initial site, subsequent rulers of Egypt added new areas that expanded the Cairo necropolis to the north and south. The monumental cemetery, also known as the City of the Dead, currently comprises two main areas — the southern and northern cemeteries — which together extend over 12 kilometers (7½ miles) and cover an area of about 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres). Today, the site is part of Historic Cairo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site registered since 1979.

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