By: Virginie Nguyen
View of the City of the Dead. The Sayeda Nafisa Mosque is visible in the background.
The streets of the City of the Dead are often silent and dusty, in contrast to Cairo’s usual noise, as no cars can enter the area’s narrow passageways.
Young boys playing cards in a courtyard of the City of the Dead.
Siham has been living in the City of the Dead since she was a child. The house belongs to her family, and the tomb of her ancestors is underneath the floor of the living room.
Some people live here because they have nowhere else to go. Although their living here is not a new phenomenon, the City of the Dead is still an example of Cairo’s acute housing crisis.
Fathi Salama is an undertaker’s assistant and has been working in the City of the Dead for 15 years. He lives in a room with two tombs with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Fathi throws water on the floor to get rid of the dust.
An Egyptian balady cafe near Sayeda Nafisa Mosque, on the way to the City of the Dead.
Don’t miss The City of the Dead - Part one.
By: Virginie Nguyen
The City of the Dead, situated at Cairo’s Arafa necropolis, is a necropolis and cemetery below the Mokattam Hills. Stretching out for 6.4 km, the streets in the City of the Dead are quiet, narrow and often unpaved. There, one can find a dense grid of tomb and mausoleum structures, where some people live and work among the dead. Some reside here to be near ancestors, but most of them live there after being forced to move from central Cairo due to urban renewal demolitions and urbanization pressures. Other residents emigrated in from the agricultural countryside, looking for work.
The necropolis has been around for more than 700 years, but no one is sure of the exact number of people living among the million or so tombs.
In the past, the Arab conquerors chose the area as a burial ground in order to be far away from the city but a deserted location. In the Egyptian society, the cemeteries are not considered as a place for the dead but rather a place where life begins..
Among the cemeteries of the City of the Dead lives a community of Egypt’s urban and poor residents. There are five major cemeteries: the Northern Cemetery, Bab el Nasr Cemetery, the Southern Cemetery, the Cemetery of the Great, and Bab al-Wazir Cemetery.
Egyptians don’t really see cemeteries as a place of the dead, but rather a place where life begins.
Although they are tolerated, the residents living in the City of the Dead are insecure about their status, as they are living there illegally.
A young boy walks around the tomb of an important business man. His parents are the undertakers of the family of the business man. They are living in a small house just next to it.
A young woman praying at Sayeda Nafisa Mosque on Prophet Mohamed’s birthday.
Nowadays, the population of the City of the Dead is growing quickly due to rural migration and a housing crisis that has grown worse since the revolution.
In the past, Cairo rulers chose this area for their tombs in order to be outside the crowded city in a deserted location. This area was used as a burial ground for different dynasties, including the Fatimids, Abbasids, Ayyubids, Mamlukes, and the Ottomans, among others.
Part two here.
By: Virginie Nguyen
Aleppo December 2012 — Winter has started, it’s 4.30 pm and the darkness of the street appears among the drops of water and the little light coming from the cars. In the street, noises and screams can be heard from the bakeries. Under the rain, hundreds of people, mainly men and children, are lining up for bread. They have been waiting there for hours and will wait until late at night. The civil war has been going on for 21 months now, and it is the second winter that the population has had to endure. With 60 000 people dead (according to the UN) since the beginning of the uprising, more and more Syrians civilians are leaving their homes to find safer places inside Syria or in the neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon. For those inside Syria, living conditions are getting worse due to the lack of electricity, increasing prices of basic needs and the cold … but whatever the difficulties are, life is still going on.
As fighting in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, enters its sixth month, the economy has ground to a halt. There is no electricity, and the prices of basic goods such as bread and cooking oil have skyrocketed. Residents are selling off their possessions to survive. Here is a view of the neighborhood near the Aleppo airport, where heavy fighting was still going on.
People line up and struggle in front of a bakery in Aleppo. For a week, there has a severe shortage of bread. The price of 1 kilogram has become 12 times more expensive than it used to be. Outside the bakery, 1 kilogram of bread will cost 200 Syrian pounds, and at the bakery, it will cost 25 Syrian pounds.
The entrance of the courtyard in the Old Aleppo, which was considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is now completely destroyed.
Two small children share a meal inside an Aleppo school now used as their home. There hasn’t been any electricity for two weeks. Their parents, 23 and 25 years old, left the city of Karm al-Tarrab when their house was destroyed by MiG aircraft when none of them were inside. They decided to live in a school with 11 other families. As it is now winter, they have to struggle to find water, bread and petrol for electricity. Ahmed has found a small job as a plastic collector, but never earns more than 100 Syrian pounds a day.
Each time it rains, water leaks from the roof of a school where six different refugee families are living.
Teenagers observe a rocket coming from a tank of the regular army. The Free Syrian Army brought it to their father, who used to repair weapons and bombs.
Syrian civilians from the village of Azaz, northern Aleppo, cut wood in order to make a fire. For one month, they haven’t had access to electricity.
Ahmed al-Omar is 25 and has two children. Five months ago, he and his wife and two children left the city of Karm al-Tarrab when their house was destroyed by a MiG, when none of them were inside. They decided to live in a school with eleven other families. It is now winter, so they struggle to find water, bread and petrol for electricity. Ahmed has found a small job a plastic collector, but never earns more than 100 Syrian pounds a day.
At a Friday protest in Bustan al-Kaser, Aleppo, young people and children sing songs against President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime.
The body of a martyr is carried by members of his family during the Friday protest in Bustan al-Kaser, Aleppo.
On 20 December, a war aircraft targeted and bombed an ambulance in southern Aleppo, killing two people.
Read more about families braving the second harsh winter of Syrian conflict.