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Egypt: Volunteers save ancient relics as City of the Dead is demolished

May 22, 2023 at 3:11 pm

Men sit at a cafe by the 15th century Sultan Qaitbay mosque complex in the “Desert of the Mamluks” (City of the Dead) area of Egypt’s capital Cairo [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

The historic City of the Dead in Cairo is being demolished by bulldozers to make way for a highway.

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Historic Cairo, the City of the Dead is a collection of cemeteries which includes the Mosque of Qaitby, the Complex of Sultan Ashraf Barsbey and the Mausoleum of Ibn Barquq.

Many families live inside the mausoleum rooms of the cemetery and will be made homeless.

Among the ancient artefacts marked for demolition are the Mausoleum of Rashwan Pasha Abdullah.

A group of volunteers regularly visit the area to document ancient artefacts and try and save them before they are lost.

Last week, they found ancient Kufi Arabic engravings on a slab of stone built into a wall believed to be 1,187 years old.

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The new highway will link Cairo with the multi-billion-dollar New Administrative Capital being built 50 kilometres from Cairo on a patch of desert.

As it pushes ahead with sweeping urban redevelopment projects, the Egyptian government has destroyed historic neighbourhoods with its new highways, flattened green spaces and generated even more pollution.

Between August 2019 and January 2020 these plans destroyed almost 40,000 square metres of green space, the equivalent of 50 football fields, in the Cairo neighbourhood of Heliopolis.

In February last year authorities evacuated residents from Al-Jayara, Hosh Al-Ghajar, Al-Sukar and Al-Lemon neighbourhoods in Old Cairo so they could build a tourism, culture and entertainment project.

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi claims to have built some 2,700 new highways over the course of his eight-year rule.

In 2020, Egypt announced it was building two highways eight lanes wide across the pyramid plateau outside Cairo, also a UNESCO world heritage site.

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