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Cairo's Historic Cemetery of al-Suyuti Conflicting Claims.



The cemetery is accessed from one of Cairo’s main transportation and commercial nodes, Maydan al-Sayyida ‘Aisha. The northern section of the cemetery which overlooks this maydan, as well as its western border which runs along al-Sikka al-Hadid Street are both busy commercial strips with the northern section’s shops topped by residential multi-storeys. Some of the hawshs inside the cemetery contain spaces that service these commercial activities, while others simply serve as residences. The turabis (cemetery caretakers) could also live in purely residential homes that are legal structures with street numbers. The cemetery residents form a tight-knit community with a clear structure and their livelihood is derived both from burial activities and related construction and contracting works and from the peripheral commercial activities. It is no coincidence that many of the shops sell construction tools and equipments.

This section includes a photo-documentation of the peripheral secular zones in addition to an analytical account of the multi-functional character of the cemetery.

While living in close proximity to the dead is certainly a contentious issue, it is undeniable that there is still much to be learned about the details of this phenomenon – how it came about, how it currently functions and how it is perceived both by the cemetery residents and by the rest of Egypt – and even by the world. The sections on the architectural and urban history of this cemetery have already shown that this practice is rooted in a much older history than is generally believed. This section will also show that the turabi community itself is also a historic community with a hierarchical and organizational structure that belies the undeserved stigma attached to it. It also shows that many of the non-funerary activities fill a real need in the city and that they cannot simply be abolished through up-down policies but need to be studied and understood before any decision is made.