The Karaite Jewish Cemetery in Basatin

The Jewish cemetery in Basatin is the third oldest operational Jewish cemetery in the world, having been officially established by decree of the Mamluk Sultan al-Ashraf Qaitbay in 1482. At the time, the land designated for the cemetery consisted of 147 acres and was located beyond the boundaries of the Tulunid capital of Egypt, with separate grounds for Rabbanite and Karaite Jews. Over the centuries, the cemetery became fragmented into disconnected plots of land now amounting to about 27 acres. These plots consist of the common burial grounds, known colloquially as the Basatin cemetery, the Mosseri family cemetery, the Ades family cemetery, the Ventura family cemetery, the Rav Haim Capusi cemetery, the Moise Cattaui Pasha family cemetery, and a surviving Karaite family cemetery.

With the exception of the Mosseri cemetery, which is under the supervision and protection of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the other cemeteries remain under the care of the Egyptian Jewish community in Cairo, represented by the Drop of Milk Association.

Thanks to a generous grant from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP), ARCE, in partnership with the Drop of Milk Association and the US Embassy in Cairo, was able to undertake preliminary conservation work and produce a management plan to guide any future interventions at the site. 

In the initial project phase, the team performed a condition analysis, topographic survey of the remaining graveyards, an engineering study of remaining structures, a geophysical soil analysis, and material testing. Architectural drawings were also completed to reflect both the original state and condition after receiving conservation. All cemeteries underwent extensive solid waste removal in order to proceed with conservation.

Following this preliminary work, the Karaite cemetery was then selected for more focused efforts. Extensive work to repair the breaches in the perimeter walls of the cemetery were a priority. Conservation activities included the cleaning of the original marble plaques in the graveyards and burial covers, as well as refitting those which were displaced from their original positions. As the gathering rooms’ roofs were at risk of collapse, several interventions were needed, namely ceiling refurbishment and support, roof installation, and isolation in order to prevent further damage. All woodwork required replacement or refurbishment, and the renovated windows and doors were treated to safeguard future sustainability. The dome of the Menasha family tomb received extensive conservation work, consisting of ceiling consolidation, restoration and installation of columns to the two gravestone bases, and refurbishment of the mosaic flooring in the interior.