Coptic Cairo, Cairo
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.
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.
Egypt was one of the first countries to embrace Christianity, which became an official religion in 4th century A.D. Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, hence, the name Coptic Cairo for the area where they first settled. Coptic Cairo is uncharacteristically tranquil and quite a pleasant area to walk around.
Very little, however, remains of the original settlement as the annual inundation of the Nile had destroyed most of the original structures. What visitors see now are mostly reproductions or restorations. There are so many points of interest within Coptic Cairo. my favorites from which are:
1) The Hanging Church - built in 9th century A.D. on top of the Water Gate of Roman Babylon (hence, the name) in honor of the Virgin Mary. I love the light filtering through the windows above over the church's colorful interiors - very solemn. Its 13 columns are said to represent Christ and the 12 disciples with the darker one symbolizing Judas.
2) Church of St George - built in honor of the Mar Girgis (St George), its colorful stained glass is beautiful. The original church was built in the 10th century, but had to be rebuilt several times following several fires. Look for the image of St George housed in some special enclave to your left when you enter the church.
3) Coptic Museum - this offers an excellent glimpse into the Coptic Christian culture featuring architecture, religious art, textiles and garments and literature. The exhibits are well laid out and professionally labeled. One drawback are the rude tourist police at the entrance who treat every camera-toting tourist with intense suspicion.
4) Greek Orthodox Cemetery - peaceful and serene (pun not intended), the shady trees provide respite from the scorching sun, while you read epitaphs and take snaps of interesting tombs and mausoleums.
Coptic Cairo is a fascinating little enclave within the city of Cairo.
In 2004 it was closed for restoration, but I visited several times before that.
Entrance is down an underground passage.
The first building you see is the Convent of St George. Only the garden can be entered, as the convent is inhabited by nuns.
Other places, almost cheek by jowel as the enclave is very small, are :
the Church of St George,
Church of St Sergius--.
This church is built on a site traditionally claimed to have been visited by the holy family during their flight into Egypt.. When we were there a group of women surrounded the barricaded steps leading down to the actual site, and spontaneously broke into singing "Oh ,Come, All Ye Faithful". It was so unexpected, but quite moving.
The Church of St Barbara
The Synagogue of Ben Ezra--.
The synagogue was originally the Church of St Michael the Archangel. It was then bought by the Jewish community in Cairo.
Finally is the Church of the Virgin [al Mu'allagah] which rests on the two bastions of the Roman Gate. When we visited it was being repainted.
Apart from the churches there is a large gift shop where you can also buy drinks and water.
Side streets lead to the dwellings of the Coptic community who live there. Woman can be seen carrying their shopping, and Coptic priests wandering about.
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.
I was surprised to find that the oldest section of Cairo, "Old Cairo" or "Coptic Cairo" is a walled compound containing a cluster of Coptic Christian Churches.
Quite a scenic place, its said that the streets here could pass for the old town Jerusalem. (I havent been there so I cant say for myself...) Gates to the compound date back to AD 98 in Roman times.
Very easy to get here, just take the metro from Midan Tahrir four stops south to Mar Girgis, which is just outside the wall.
Coptic Cairo is a walled enclave of tranquility with narrow alleyways, churches, monasteries, graveyards and the oldest synagoge in Egypt.
This area was settled in the 6th century BC, later the Romans built here a fortress, called Babylon in Egypt. Babylon has been always a centre of Christianity.
The remains of two round towers of the western gate of Babylon form the entrance of the area. The Church of St George is built on the top one of the towers.
Coptic Cairo is the South Eastern part of Old Cairo, an oasis of tranquility and calm in late hours of the day and a crowded touristic attraction otherwise.As an insight, I noticed many Muslim couples meeting around Saint Georges Church and in the Graveyard, probably to stay away from acquaintances' nosy eyes.
The settlement dates back to the 2nd century AD when the Romans settled here, building a fortress called Babylon in Egypt.
The Hanging Church and Coptic Museum go without saying as the main attractions.
Walking on the narrow cobbled alleyways you shouldn't miss the oldest synagogue on Egypt's teritory: Ben Ezra.
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.
Coptic Cairo is located south of the city centre.It is the heartland of Cairo's important Coptic community.Only few church survive in this place altho' once there were more than 20 churches here.Like the Hanging Church with foundations dating from the 4th century AD,it could be the oldest church in Egypt.Then the St.Sergius Church,it is said to have been built at the site where Joseph,MAry and the infant Jesus took shelter after fleeing from the Holy Land.Then a church converted to a Synagogue.But the main attraction is the Coptic Museum,it houses all the aspects of Coptic art and worship,from tapestries,early handwritten Bibles and icons taken from churches and monasteries all over Egypt.
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.
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.
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.
Old Cairo or "Coptic Cairo" as it is known to foreigners is the historic link between Egypt's Pharaonic and Islamic civilisations and was once known as Babylon where the Holy Family is supposed to have taken refuge. It is the heart of Cairo's Coptic Christian community and houses several medieval churches, a synagogue and the Coptic Museum.
The nearest metro station is "Mari Girgis" which we took from Sadat station near to the Egyptian Museum (see transport tip for metro map).
Just outside Mari Girgis station you will come across the 2 circular towers of Babylon's western gate. Above these you will see the Orthodox Church of St. George with it's mural of George and the dragon outside. Open 8.30am - 4pm daily (free entry). The Hanging Church is also nice to visit and is open daily from 9am-5pm (free entry). At the Convent of St. George you can see the casket containing relics of St. George and try on the chains used for the "chain wrapping ritual" (symbolizing the Saint's persecution by the Romans) (free entry). The Church of St. Sergius is open from 8am - 4pm (free entry) with the Ben Ezra Synagogue nearby (open from 9am - 4pm). No photos allowed here and I seem to remember that there was a small fee to enter of 10LE pp.