Treasure-trove City of the Dead reduced to rubble at risk of total destruction

In waht has been described as spit in the face of historians and artists, the burial place at the foot of Mokattam Hills in the Egyptian capital, is being destroyed to bring in new roads.

The Muslim Arab Conquerers arrived in the 7th century and made an enormous impact on the country, with the commander of the military campaign, Amr ibn al-As, who served as the Egyptian governor among the pivotal figures who've been laid to rest in the now endangered tombs.

In the years since, the conquerers' takeover, the Egyptian rulers, understanding the importance of history, have expanded the necropolis into a series of cemeteries, known as 'The City of the Dead'.

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However, a large chunk of the historic site is being demolished to rubble by an intrusive government road construction project.

Subsequently, locals have complained that it's ruining the city's urban fabric and are particularly concerned about the hundreds of Islamic architectural treasures and funerary artworks that are being destroyed.

The stunning labyrinthine, which has stood for hundreds of years, features an array of tombs, mausoleums and architectural value, containing figures of royalty, politicians, scholars, writers and more, with some of the cemeteries being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

In addition, the site is inhabited by lower-class families, whose properties are currently being knocked to the ground.

Author of Architecture for the Dead: Cairo’s Medieval Necropolis and head of research at the Research Institute for Sustainable Development in Paris, Galila El Kadi, said: "It’s a tremendous loss of a 1,400-year-old historical heritage. It is a loss regarding the tombs of those buried there; a loss regarding the memory of these places and regarding the safety [of the dead] in their last place of rest and peace."

While Egyptian authorities claim that their actions are being done to help ease traffic congestion in Cairo, sceptics claim the scheme is merely being deployed to benefit the elite, without any concern for the opinions of the working class.

The public first grew concerned in 2020, when the construction of two road networks caused controversy by damaging the Mamluk necropolis.

El Kadi claimed: “The area affected by the demolition work there is 100 hectares, which represents 1% of the total of all the necropolises, and which is more than twice the size of the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris."

Due to outcry from the public, media and UNESCO, the project ground to a halt. But a month ago, the bulldozers returned, focusing on two major cemeteries in the south of Cairo, rendering the locals devastated.

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