- Researches and studies
Al Qarafa City of the Dead
ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION OF THE MUSLIM NECROPOLIS IN CAIRO
The rising of the City of the Dead is dated after the year 642 A.D. (the Arab conquest of Egypt) at the foot of Moqattam hills, eastern border of al Fustat, the ancient Cairo. It has been for long Arab conquerors' first burial place. Every following Arab dynasty founded a new cemetery with religious and civil buildings, such as Sufi collegess (Islamic mysticism), hospices for the poor, hammam, caravanserrai, hostels for pilgrims. The Fatimids (979-1171 A.D.) built their tombs inside the capital al Qahira, and a cemetery outside the northern gate Bab el Nasr. In addition, because of their Shi'ite religious faith, they built funerary mausoleums for Alid martyrs, Alì ibn Abu Taleb's (Mohammed's cousin and son in law) family members. During the XIIIth century Saladin wanted to unify the four Egyptian capital cities, (al Fustat of the Omayyad dynasty, the Abbassids' al Askar, the Tulunids' al Qata'i, the Fatimids' al Qahira), integrating the various cemeteries in the urban area. The most important funerary mausoleum was Imam Shafi'i's tomb, the founder of Shafai'ite rite of Sunni Islam, considered one of the holiest person. Since long time his tomb has been visiting by Muslims and it represents the centre of southern cemetery. The necropolis saw its last historical expansion under the Mameluk domination (1260-1517 A.D.). The Mameluk sultans and nobles supported many monuments, such as their funerary mausoleums and mosques, being the area considered holy for the presence of the Sufi tombs. In addition they planned a secular urbanization. The City of the Dead was a funerary place as well as a political space. As in Europe the monuments and holy celebrations were expression of noble and royal power, so the Mameluks on parades and processions went down from Citadel crossing the necropolis and coming back from Bab el Nasr. The following dynasty of Ottomans (1517-1798 A.D.) built magnificent family tombs and restored many altars in Turkish style, but only few of the 110 sovereigns (pasha) had own tomb in the huge necropolis. Infact many other small cemeteries intra muros were built because Cairo population began to bury their dead in the home courtyards. This custom came to an end in 1798 with the Napoleonic conquest. The necropolis was used only as burial place and its mosques lost their education role. In the XXth century the urban crisis and, above of all, the poverty caused by the two World Wars made many peasants from countryside to move to Cairo in search of better conditions of life. They occupied the tombs and enlarged them, in order to build their houses. The necropolis changed completely its aspect till to the contemporary City of the Dead.