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Wadi al-Salaam Cemetery: Life and Death Brought Together

01 Feb 2016


Wadi al-Salaam cemetery in Najaf is the largest in the world, estimated to be home to some six million graves. According to the UNESCO World Heritage website, the cemetery forms 13% of Najaf city, extending from the centre to the outermost of the north west of the city, covering 917 hectares. The cemetery is the subject of hundreds of stories, and even several novels. It is the dying wish for many thousands of Shia to be interred at Wadi al-Salaam.

Wadi al-Salaam cemetery: the south of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib shrine and Ali ibn Abi Talib Street, crossed from the easte by the Najaf road that continues towards Karbala.

Burials have been carried out here for more than 1,400 years, documented since the time of the Sasanians and Parthians. Historically significant figures such as Hud and Saleh are buried here.


The market, with shops selling sweets and cakes.

Life and death, as a child mourns at the grave of her father. During the Iraq war up to 300 bodies were buried daily. By 2010 the rate decreased to less than 100 a day. Since the beginning of the conflict with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the cemetery has seen a sharp increase in burials.


A child reads her father’s headstone.


Al-Dafana: Gravediggers, sitting beneath the Iraqi flag.


An Iranian woman visiting the grave of a relative. Many Iranians are buried in Wadi al-Salaam.


A street inside the cemetery.



This man visits the grave of his brother every Friday. Shia people from the southern provinces of Iraq prefer to bury their dead in this cemetery.


Iraqi women attend the graves of relatives.


A man and a woman visiting from India.


The cemetery has life too. At midday the streets of the cemetery are crowded with visitors and shopkeepers.


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