Coptic Cairo, Cairo
Narrow cobbled allays and almost sleepy streets are real refreshment after busy and noisy streets of Cairo. It is almost unbelievable that you are still in the center of that metropolis. Pay attention to the details such as the doors and windows and watch out not to step on some sleepy cat:).
If you are looking for some souvenirs you can as well buy them here. There are a few very large shops that sell them and you will be able to take your time looking around as nobody will bother you. It was refreshing change after other shopping experiences in Egypt.
The Arabic name for this part of the city is Masr al-Qadima. As its name says, it is inhabited by Copts, the ancient Christians that lived here much before the islam came into the country. The Coptic religion is very similar to the Eastern Orthodox but it slightly differs in some beliefs. They had their own language that had its roots in the pharaonic but it is almost lost, today they speak Arabic.
The settlement existed here from 6th century BC but the oldest remains can be found from the roman period.
Coptic Cairo is secluded from the rest of the city by the walls and would be secluded anyway since it is lying on much lower level so you have to go down the stairs to get into it. That fact is telling us that it really is the oldest part as the rest of the city was built on the level that have been risen during the centuries. No wonder, taking into consideration that the sands surrounds the city.
This old part of Cairo is must see as it treasures numerous sites which tell us the story of the ancient Christianity in this part of the world.
It is said that Mary, Joseph and Jesus stopped to rest at one of the Churches. The buildings and insides are amazing! I would save this tour/trip for a day when you want out of the hustle and bustle. The Church grounds and grave yards are open airy and have good shade to rest in. It is very quiet and there are opportunities to just sit and relax, no people trying to sell you stuff and the like.
A good guide book should see you through this one. I only did Giza and Sakkara pyramids with a guide.
Al-Mu'allaqah Church (Hanging Church)-Its origin date to the late 4th and early 5th Century, this basilica was named "Al-Mu'allaqah'' because it was built on top of the south gate of the Fortress of Babylon. "Muaallaqah" means "hanging".
Church of Marie Guirgis (Church of St. George)
Built on the ruins of an ancient church, this basilica has a unique hall dating to the 13th Century AD and is one of the last round churches to be seen in Egypt.
Church of Abu Sergah (Church of St. Sergius)
Dating back to the beginning of the 5th Century, this basilica is built on the cave in which the Holy Family stayed and is regarded by visitors as a source of blessing.
Church of Sitt Barbara (Church of St. Barbara)
Founded in the 5th Century, it was rebuilt in the 10th C. and still retains its wooden door which constitutes a magnificent example of fine art.
Church of St. Mina
Located in the Old City, it was built in the 6th Century AD.
St. Marcarious Church (Abu Sefein)
Built in the 6th century AD, and located in the ancient area of old Cairo. One of its prominent relics is the crypt of St. Barsoum Al-Arian.
Ben Ezra Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Egypt which is fully restored after the damage during the Six Day War in 1967. The entrance to the courtyard marked by a Star of David over the gateway in the wall. No photography in this Synagogue.
Coptic Cairo, the oldest part of the city, has been settled since as far back as the 6th century BC. It is a secluded complex with a large concentration of old churches, a synagogue, and some Roman/Byzantine ruins (of the Fort of Babylon). The complex is located near the banks of the Nile at the southern end of modern day Cairo. When Egypt entered the Islamic empire in the 7th century AD, the city expanded northwards (first under the name el-Fustat), while this part, with its rich Christian and Jewish heritage, remained largely unaffected. The Coptic Museum, which shows the history of Christianity in Egypt, is located here. A visit to Coptic Cairo is a must for a better understanding of Egypt's history and multi-religious heritage.
It is not much included in the usual touristic routes in Cairo but I found it the best yet to be discovered.
Not crowded (and it can't be because streets are thin) beautiful places to see as churches, synagogue and mosques; real people in real houses that look like museums invite you in; architecture that last for almost 1500 years at some points...
When we first arived in Coptic Cairo - it was strange, it was the last thing I expected to find a in a huge religious city like Cairo!
In fact Coptic Cairo is a big part of Cairo, and there are lots of Coptic Christians living here (a lady in our hostel was one for a start).
Here there are beautiful churches to explore all hidden down small sidestreets, there is a synagogue too and cafes to refresh yourself at!
Coptic Cairo is in the far south of old Cairo (and directly opposite the Mari Girgis metro station). It represents the period between the Pharoahs and the Muslims and is believed to be have been settled as early at 6th century BC. Whilst not officially a ghetto, this walled enclave, Babylon, is an indication of a seige mentality, but in modern day Cairo is a welcome sea of tranquility from the rest of the mayhem that is Cairo!
Its a wonderful warren of alleyways, museums, monasteries, churches, graveyards - even a synogogue.
Excluding all things Pharaonic, this is the oldest part of the city, and one of the most fascinating places to visit. Today, it seems like a small city within a city. Coptic Cairo contains a maze of alleyways amidst a cluster of churches and one synagogue. The church of St. Serguis identifies with the flight of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as they fled the Holy Land to avoid persecution. This church claims to have the family's temporary living quarters. When walking around this area of the city, it is good to take it nice and slow to get the feel for this old place.
Old Cairo is the area south of Garden City down to the quarter known by tourist as Coptic Cairo. There are some Mosques, the archaeological site Frustat and the Nilometer.
Best know is Coptic Cairo. Its a is a walled compound containing a cluster of Coptic Churches. Nowadays there are only five churches left but there had been times when more than 20 were squeezed in less than a square kilometre. Narrow alleyways connecting the churches are running between high stone walls. Probably the loveliest church of Cairo is located here: Hanging Church or St. Mary's Church.
The entrance to Coptic Cairo and to the Hanging Church are free of charge. Its lovely to stroll through the narrow streets and enjoy some peace and silence compared to many other Cairo tourist attractions. But keep in mind that this part is a very traditional area of Cairo and appropriate clothing is needed. Shorts or naked shoulders are not welcome. If somebody is not dressed according to the dress code, access will be denied.
Don't just settle for a visit to the Hanging Church and the museum while you're in this quarter of Cairo - time spent exploring the streets will reveal many more treasures in this ancient part of the city.
The tower at the entrance to the museum (considerably rebuilt, of course) was once part of the Roman fortress and harbourside defences. You can also see nearby evidence of the excavations of the fortress that have revealed the port's quay.
The round church just beyond the fortress is the Church of St George - one of the last round churches to be seen in Egypt.
Also nearby is the Ben Ezra Synagogue - the oldest synagogue in Egypt, now fully restored after the damage it sustained during the Six Day War in 1967. You'll find the entrance to its tranquil courtyard marked by a Star of David over the gateway in the wall.
The Church of St Sergius lays claim not only to being the oldest church in Egypt but also that it is built over a cave where Joseph and Mary rested on the flight into Egypt. We were lucky enough to arrive here just as a church service was coming to an end, in time not only to hear the wonderful chanting and observe the lovely way people stayed on in the church afterwards - talking to each other and their priests while children played, everyone so comfortable and at home in this beautiful old building but also to be drawn into a family group as welcome guests.
Christianity came very early to Egypt and what is now known as the Coptic quarter of Cairo was a city long before the arrival of Islam led to the development of the great metropolis we now see sprawling all around. There has always been a holy aspect to this place, for all the faiths of the region - once there were more than 20 churches here, and even today you will find several churches and a monastery as well as Cairo's oldest synagogue and even mosques dotted around the quiet streets and laneways of the quarter. If you're fortunate enough to arrive as a church service is coming to an end,do wait quietly at the back. Not only will you hear the wonderful chant of the liturgy,as ancient as the faith itself, but you will witness the lovely interaction of the congregation and the clergy when the service is done and you may well, as we were, be offered bread in a spirit of Christian fellowship.
When the hustle of the streets of Cairo become too much for you, this is the area to head for. If you're planning to visit the churches be sure to be properly dressed - no shorts or bare arms for either men or women are allowed. Photography may also be forbidden in the churches and in the synagogue - we were allowed to take photos a while back but a very recent visitor to Cairo tells me they were not.
This is a part of Cairo where mostly Coptic Christians live and is also place of worship (churches) of early Christians (Copts).
The area is conveniently located served by metro line and is rather calm and quiet and hustler-free.
There are two very nice things about Coptic Cairo :
1. Easy to get to by Metro - take any train on the Helwan - El Marg line from central Cairo ( Nasser or Sadat stations ) south to Mar Guirgis station. Exit from the eastern side of the station and Coptic Cairo is about 30m to your left ( down the steps beside the road ) , the Roman Tower is in front of you and the Hanging Church to your right. The fare is 75 piastres from any station on the Metro ( US$ 0.12 ).
2. There is no admission charge to anything and - apart from a trinket seller who claims to be " the only Jew still living here " ( he isn't Jewish ) - no self appointed "guides" trouble you. Take at least half a day to wander around at your own speed.
Coptic Cairo is not devoted entirely to landmarks or houses of worship belonging to this religion. This area is particularly important to all religions because of the many legends about important religious people and their experiences here.