The sustainable City of the Dead

Object: realization of a center of sustainable development in the City of the Dead.

Space: Maqad attached  to Sultan Kaytbeyís mosque, Mameluk necropolis.

1. Introduction to the socio-cultural environment of the City of the Dead.

Nowadays Cairoís ďCity of the DeadĒ, the ancient Muslim necropolis, still working as burial place, is an amazing visit for many tourists. The particular aspect of the coexistence between the living and the dead attract many visitors in search of real touch of Egyptian and Caireen life, above of all in the Mameluk necropolis. In the 15th century an Egyptian historian, Al Maqrizi, already spoke about seven cemeteries with 5000 residents/Cairo total population of 15000. About 20 years ago a census counted 900.000 residents. The history of the City of the Dead began with the foundation of Al Fustat by Muslim tribes as a burial ground in 642 AD. During the following centuries it was enlarged along with the expansion of the city. Since the beginning the necropolis was inhabited by the guardians of the noble tombs and Sufi communities. During the Middle Times it was urbanized with many buildings like mills, hostels, palaces, restaurants, hammams, because of its importance as medieval pilgrimage to the holy tombs, as well as on the way to Mecca, and as a playground for the sultan and noblesí parades. The City of the Dead has not only a huge cultural and architectonic heritage of the highest value but also an intangible one to be preserved.  It represents a precious evidence of Cairo historical evolution and of the Egyptian old ethnic traditions, a syncretic mixture between rural and urban culture. Even itís a living evidence of many old traditions spread, and nowadays lost, in all the Mediterranean cultures (as South Italy, Spanish and Greek culture) since Faraonic civilization.

2. General Introduction to the Project.

Considering that in the 80ís Unesco made a project to salvage the City of the Dead  cultural heritage, defining among the objectives the improvement of its residentsí life conditions, the project of the center can be enclosed in the Unesco plan. The project is thought in the frame of sustainable development. Through an interaction between the residents and visitors the center can gather information on local culture of the City of the Dead community. The project consists of several activities in different fields from the environmental protection to the sustainable development of the area with activities in the field of handicrafts.

 3. General Purposes.

The aims of the project is the preservation of the City of the Dead tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Its rare set of architecture, customs, beliefs, traditions, and rituals deserves to be salvaged and rehabilitated to the world.

4. Pratical Targets.

To eradicate the poverty, to alleviate the unemployment, the fight to the children labour are the main targets of the project. Thus it's necessary to involve in the project the emarginated people of the community, that are the lowest income families. But in general it's important to improve the life and labour conditions of all the residents as well as the environment.

      5. Description of the Project

Itís well known that to intervene in a community with a global action in all the structures of life is more constructive than to act in an unique field. So that itís necessary to involve local people with a process of awareness about their own identity and history and at the same time to create a space where the local resources can be salvaged and developed in the frame of sustainable development. 

a.  Sectors of the Project: ecology, anthropology, ethnic music, sustainable economy, handicraft.


In this sector the environmental improvement is significant. It consists of a regular garbage management with the garbage baskets implementation in the streets and around monuments, the public green implementation and the organization of training courses to the teachers of local schools on the environmental education, in order to spread the ideas of the environment preservation to pupils which will act as an echo in their families.


In this sector the center can provide: a gallery for the permanent and temporary exhibitions regarding the City of the Dead history and identity as old and recent photo, and ethnic objects exhibitions; a library on the subject, a field research centre.

Ethno Musicology

In this sector the center can provide a space for the salvage of music traditions and for the concert of local ethnic music groups.


This sector of the center is centred on the several workshops of traditional handicraft. The training activity of local handicraft to the unemployed and to the low class women is the main target. The aim is the preservation of old handicraft activities and the development of new creative handicraft products.

Sustainable Economy

This sector of the center represents the motor of the project because of acting the local resources inside the City of the Dead community, through the promotion and the institution of new jobs, in order to alleviate the unemployment and the poverty. New activities can be in the field of the production of gadgets, the editing and publishing of postcards, calendar about the City of the Dead, the ethnic music editing.

6.  How to accomplish the project.

In which way is it possible to accomplish this project?

First of all, itís necessary working on the memories and individual experience of the locals, so that the different way of life and customs can emerge.  Itís necessary to forecast several stages, several experts, and different know how, but under the direction of an unique methodology of work.  To better achieve  the aims of the project preliminary talks with resident population are fundamental to inform them about the project and in a second stage to involve them in its realization.

a. metodology of work

The basic methodology consists to get the direct partecipation of the necropolis' residents. The residents have to be the principal actors in the supply of the cultural materials and the first benificiaries of the project.                                    For accomplishment of this aim the session meetings between experts and locals have to be regurarly planned. The experts, the permanent staff, and the locals have to work in a spirit of a team.

b. stages of implementation

Four principal stages have to be established to implement the project:

1. to inform people on the project, and a screening of subjects and institutions to involve;                                               

2. to search and to collect the cultural material for permanent exhibitions;                                                                    

3. to prepare and to equip all the sections of the center;                                                                                                

4. to organize the training courses.

 c. beneficiary subjects

To fulfil the minum criteria of sustainble development itís necessary to empower the disadvantaged categories of the community, that is women and the lowest class families. Among them firstly itís necessary to involve families which use children, for need, to increase their income, in order to free children by minor labour and to begin their schooling.

e. experts

To realize the entire project itís necessary to have some experts as cultural mediators among the residents. To accomplish the 4 stages of the project itís necessary to employ: some consulting experts, some permanent staff,  the Ngo. The Ngo will be involved in the sector of ecology. For the anthropological sector itís necessary the cooperation of some experts, as a sociologist,  an anthropologist.  For the economic sector itís necessary to employ local permanent trainers for the handicraft courses and some experts to teach the new creative job opportunities. 

Project by Anna Tozzi Di Marco - all rights reserved -