Pakistan's City of Silence

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Why you should care

Because Makli Hill is the world’s biggest ancient cemetery.

If asked to name an ancient cemetery, many of us would probably list the Egyptian Pyramids in Giza. If you’re well-traveled, you might add Naqsh-e Rustam in Iran. Few of us (the author included, until recently) know anything about Makli Hill, a remarkable but rarely visited necropolis outside of Karachi, Pakistan.

Makli Hill is a graveyard truly without equal. Scattered across its 26,000 feet of barren scrubland, it boasts half a million stone and brick tombs. For about 500 years (mostly between the 14th and 18th centuries), the Thatta region of modern-day Pakistan was an important base for a succession of great empires. At any one time, the Assyrians, Persians or Mughals claimed Thatta as their own. Despite this constant changing of hands, the new rulers never razed the graves of their forebears, instead deciding to simply add their dead to the local graveyard in Makli. The result is one of the most unique graveyards on Earth.

In Makli, visitors can, within minutes, walk through tombs for Hindu Kings, Muslim soldiers or Sufi priests. They can find ancient Arabic script, Assyrian carvings and Mughal monuments within a few meters of one another. They can even meet pilgrims who belong to tiny forgotten sects of Sufism or Hinduism that, despite persecution, still call Pakistan home.

This diversity of past and present earned Makli a UNESCO World Heritage site designation in 1981, but, tragically, international recognition has done little to stop the site’s poor preservation. Graffiti is common on tombs, as is the theft of ancient ornate carvings.

Makli’s nickname is the “City of Silence,” which makes a nod to its eternal residents. Yet, walking around the graves, many visitors are more in awe of its criminal mismanagement. For a graveyard that is so important to our human story, Makli should be under glass, preserved in perpetuity for future generations. Despite these problems, it is still well worth a visit.

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