The Necropolis is very large and is part of historic Cairo, a UNESCO world heritage.
It consists of an enormous and very old cemetery and several family tombs, mausoleums, and graves.
Due to the poverty in Egypt and the massive overpopulation problems – Cairo and its surrounding areas have 20 million inhabitants – there are about 350,000-500,000 people living in this giant historic graveyard.
There are no tours to this area, but it is possible to make a special agreement with some local tour guides and taxi drivers and they will take you to this area, usually privately.
The trip through the area redefined for me what humanity’s history must have been like. People live in extreme poverty, in old tomb buildings, sharing their accommodation with their ancestors resting under the earth, in deep chambers.
The area is adorned by a handful of beautiful mosques and gorgeous mausoleums of former rulers and mighty people.
One of them, the Khanqah of Faraj ibn Barquqis among the most beautiful architectural and sacred sites I’ve ever seen in real life or on recording. The mood is sublime and solemn, dignified but filled with energy, grace and purity. It is a truly otherworldly experience.
Going there was both a fantastic and a harrowing experience. The poverty, the squatters who spend their life doing extremely low paid work in Cairo for others and going back to their often unofficially occupied dwellings in tiny, old sand coloured stone buildings, sleeping close to the dead at night was a good reminder that poverty is very much a reality still for the larger part of the world’s population. At the same time, it was also a clear indication of the resilience of humanity and that people can find happiness and the will to survive under any conditions, as long as they have health, a family, clothes, food and a place to sleep. I’m sure this is one of the keys to survival, but I’m also sure much more needs to be done to spread the gains of the last hundreds of years much more evenly in the world.
But most of all, it was a strange beauty: calm, endless streets of graves, mausoleums and tombs. Millions of people of the past sleeping their eternal dreams under a now sprawling city which has been there for thousands of years, and is now more populous than ever.