City of the Dead (Cairo)

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The City of the Dead (مدينة الموتى), or Cairo Necropolis, also referred to as the Qarafa (القرافة) is a series of vast Islamic-era necropolises and cemeteries in Cairo, Egypt. They extend to the north and to the south of the Cairo Citadel, below the Mokattam Hills and outside the historic city walls, covering an area roughly 4 miles long. They are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of "Historic Cairo" also known as the "Islamic Cairo".

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While the "City of the Dead" is a designation frequently used in English, the Arabic name is "al-Qarafa" (Arabic: القرافة‎, romanized: al-Qarafa).

The necropolis that makes up "the City of the Dead" has been developed over many centuries and contains both the graves of Cairo's common population as well as the elaborate mausoleums of many of its historical rulers and elites. It started with the early city of Fustat (founded in 642 CE) and arguably reached its apogee, in terms of prestige and monumentality, during the Mamluk era (13th-15th centuries).

Throughout their history, the necropolises were home to various types of living inhabitants as well.

Southern Necropolis

circa 770 CE

Dome of Imam Shafi
The Mausoleum-Dome of Imam Shafi and the adjoining mosque are the most important landmarks in the Southern Cemetery. It is the largest freestanding mausoleum in Egypt and its current structure was founded by the Ayyubid sultan al-Kamil in 1211 CE (with many subsequent modifications and restorations). Salah ad-Din also built the first Sunni madrasa in Egypt here, based on the Shafi'i madhhab. The site of this madrassa later became the site of the current mosque adjoining the mausoleum.

circa 1350 CE

Sultaniyya Mausoleum
The Sultaniyya Mausoleum is believed to have been built in the 1350s and dedicated to the mother of Sultan Hassan. It is notable for its unique pair of stone domes. The structure's most distinctive feature is its two stone domes, which are ribbed or fluted on the outside, have a pointed "bulbous" profile, and stand on high drums (the cylindrical sections below the spherical part of the dome). The whole complex was likely originally intended to be used as a khanqah (Sufi lodge) in addition to the mausoleums, much like the funerary complex of Qawsun nearby.

Northern Necropolis

circa 1400 CE

Mosque-Khanqah of Faraj ibn Barquq
The Mosque-Khanqah of Faraj is often considered one of the most accomplished works of Mamluk architecture in Cairo, and one of the major monuments of the Northern Cemetery district. The creation of this funerary complex was actually ordered by Faraj's father, Sultan Barquq, who expressed a desire to be buried in the desert close to the existing tombs of Islamic saints and scholars. At the time of the building's construction, however, this area was largely empty and uninhabited (or sparsely inhabited) desert land outside the city.

circa 1474 CE

Funerary Complex of Sultan Qaytbay
The Funerary Complex of Sultan Qaytbay was one of his earliest architectural commissions; construction work for the complex began in 1470 and the mausoleum was completed in 1474. Qaytbay's mausoleum and complex was also built close to the shrine of the Muslim mystic 'Abd Allah al-Manafi, over whose tomb Qaytbay built a new dome in 1474. Qaytbay's complex contained numerous buildings over a relatively vast area, enclosed by the same wall, of which one gate, Bab al-Gindi, still remains to the south of the mausoleum.

Many of the original structures which once faced each other on both sides of the existing street have vanished. What remains today is the mosque, which is attached to the mausoleum of Qaytbay himself, as well as a maq'ad (loggia), a smaller mosque and mausoleum for Qaytbay's sons, a hod (drinking trough for animals), and a rab' (an apartment complex where tenants paid rent). At one point it was also described to have had large gardens.


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