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“Qaitbay mosque is closed for restoration, but still a great place to visit”

City of the Dead (Northern Cemetery)
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Private Half-Day Tour to City of the Dead and Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo
Ranked #49 of 325 things to do in Cairo
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Owner description: Many magnificent funerary complexes are located here including the Mosque of Qaitbey (completed in 1474 AD), the Complex of Sultan Ashraf Barsbey and the Mausoleum of Ibn Barquq.
Reviewed October 29, 2012

This is my second review of this place, as I have some things to add to my review from last year.

This year I went a few times on various days; once or twice alone and once with friends (including a foreign woman). If you're walking, you can enter the area either through the footbridge over the highway, from where the street will take you almost directly to the Qaitbey mosque, or by going under the highway overpass east from Al-Azhar street, from where it's a more complicated path but one that gives you views of the hundreds of small cemeteries along the way.

The neighbourhood is still very friendly but still very dirty. People are often curious to find you there (although they do see tourists around the main monuments), but this is usually the extent of the attention you get. You can take pictures but be a little careful not to take pictures of obvious piles of garbage, as there's a chance someone may find this disrespectful. Sadly, garbage is sometimes piled up next to some beautiful monuments.

My most important update: the Qaitbey mosque, the most famous building in the area, is closed to visitors due to ongoing restoration inside. You can still see it and its beautiful dome from the streets, but the doors only open for prayers for the locals.

The Barsbay mosque was open when I dropped by and you can enter the prayer hall (remember to tip the caretaker), though the mausoleum itself may not be open.

The funerary mosque of Sultan Farag ibn Barquq is still open, but you should look around for a caretaker who can take you one of the two beautiful high-domed mausoleums. In my experience he will usually only volunteer to take you into one of them; you'll need to ask or insist if you want to see both. Both are beautiful and fairly similar, but personally I find the women's mausoleum on the south side (on the right) more satisfying. A tip is warranted for unlocking doors, but the mosque area is open to all.

Further north are some other impressive monuments, but these are in more ruined condition, fenced off and located on some fairly desolate streets where you may find yourself quite alone.

Still a great place to visit, and hopefully future visitors will find the Qaitbay mosque newly restored and open to visit.

6  Thank BobPraz
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed September 28, 2012

Very dirty, polluted place. Interesting and historic location to visit if you manage to see pass the piles and pile of rubbish

Thank evabolton
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed March 31, 2012

General info:
As other reviews point out, this is a neighborhood where people have made their homes amongst cemeteries and medieval mausoleums - some of which are fairly ruined, others in good condition. Many of the most elegant examples of Mamluk (medieval islamic) architecture are actually found here, outside the old walls of the city where Cairo's sultans had more room to build large funerary complexes for themselves and their families. Due to Cairo's very old housing problems, however, people have been squatting here for centuries and today it is densely populated, but the cemeteries are still in use (there was one funeral going on when I passed).

Visiting this place was one of my favorite experiences in all of Cairo, but it's understandably off the tourist trail at the moment and as such I will provide below all the information I can for prospective visitors. With the right kind of awareness, this can be a real highlight of Cairo.

Recommended sights:
The main monuments are usually funerary mosques with multiple functions and attached royal mausoleums. The best are usually agreed to be:
- The Funerary complex of Sultan Qaitbay (1474): It's known for having the most magnificent outer dome in Cairo. It would be great if, unlike me, you managed to climb the minaret. Otherwise, the inside of the mosque is particularly beautiful. The mausoleum itself was also closed as there was no grounds-keeper around when I was there, possibly due to a government funding issue though that's unclear. You'll have to see when you get there (the mosque itself is public anyways).
- The funerary complex of Sultan Ashraf Barsbay (1432): You probably can't visit the interior, but from the street you can see another brilliant example of Mamluk domes with stone-carved star patterns.
- The funerary complex of Sultan Farag ibn Barquq (1411): this is a large courtyard mosque with two mausoleums (one for men, one for women) flanking the prayer hall. The mausoleums are normally closed but try to get someone to let you inside at least one of them, as they are beautiful examples of this particular architecture.
- If you keep going north from here there's several other nice buildings of the same era, most of which appear inaccessible but provide nice silhouettes from the street, including one domed mausoleum which now stands right in the middle of a four-way street intersection!

General safety/caution:
While the area is certainly poor, it's not exactly a slum either (quite a lot of modern Cairo consists of "informal" housing, but what you see are technically illegal construction of houses/apartments, not stereotypically dangerous slums).
My experience consisted of visiting for a couple of hours in the middle of the day (albeit during Ramadan). I was alone but had absolutely no problem. In fact I was less bothered here, off the tourist trail, then I was in other parts of Islamic Cairo. The only people who approached me were the occasional cute children who asked for my name (perhaps the only question they knew in English). There's also a kind shopkeeper besides the Qaitbay complex who sells the kind of lamps you see in mosques. Overall, people didn't seem to take much note of me even while I took pictures (though I tried not to be conspicuous). There were a few beggars when I entered the neighborhood walking from Al-Azhar, but I politely declined and no trouble was given me.
That said, however, I was a lone man and my intuition would be that foreign women should perhaps not go there alone. I don't suspect it's dangerous, and I don't want to scare away anyone, but I also don't want to be heedless in my advice. In this case you should presumably follow the advice of guides like Lonely Planet as well as other advice from women who have been there or who are familiar with conservative areas of Cairo.

I have described my experience but other people have had different (but rarely negative) experiences or visited in different ways (for example, being invited to visit some tombs in one of the local homes built around them). So you can take a moment to read other reviews to get various ideas, while keeping in mind that different people also have different degrees of comfort with these places.
It's perfectly sensible to visit without a guide - either alone or, especially as a woman, with someone you know. Both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet (for example) have maps and information on the Northern Cemetery. If you want even more information to prepare or guide you, then there is a small but excellent book by Jeffrey A. Nedoroscik entitled "Walking in the City of the Dead: A Visitor's Guide" which specifically offers practical and historical information about this neighborhood and other similar neighborhoods (yes, there's more than one "City of the Dead" in Cairo).

And finally, for what it's worth, I'll be happy to answer any questions by private message.

17  Thank BobPraz
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed March 30, 2012

Egyptians have been converting cemeteries into urban quarters for millennia (there was a small town built around the tomb of Queen Khentkawes at Giza over 4000 years ago, for example), and it is fascinating to watch the process continue in these mausolea dedicated to the Maluk ruling class of the 14th and 15th centuries. Some might find the relative poverty shocking, but there is far worse to be found elsewhere in Egypt. I visited alone, in the daytime, and felt perfectly safe.

1  Thank Bielding
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed February 16, 2012

If you are into history and culture, pay a visit. If you are a tourist on holiday, forget it! This is a place with sadness, as many people live in the tombs of their ancestors. The poverty can be upsetting to some to say the least. Having said that, you won't see anyone who will not smile at you but not a place to go alone, hire a local guide.

3  Thank zedted
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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