Monastery of St. Simon
The Christian residents of Garbage City (see below) needed a place to worship after a fire destroyed their church. A cave in the nearby Mokattam cliffs was discovered in the 1970's and by the early 1990's the hundreds of tons of boulders had been cleared, and now a complex of churches and meeting halls serve the Coptic Christians of Garbage City and beyond. They dedicated their new-found church to St. Simon the Tanner who lived in the 10th century, thus becoming the Monastery of St. Simon.
The space pictured below is enclosed entirely within the cave and seats about 2,000. It's often used in the winter due to its sheltered location.
Much of the surface of the walls is carved with stories from the Bible.
The lovely mosaic dome at the entrance.
The pretty walkway leading to the church.
This kitty got the color memo!
The main church is largely exposed to the elements and seats 20,000 worshippers!
And from above...
The lovely altar.
A carving of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in the ceiling.
Garbage WHAT, you say? Yep, Garbage City is a real city of about 3.5 sq. miles and it even has its own post office. Formally known as Manshiyat Naser, Garbage City is a slum located at the base of the Mokattam cliffs at the southeastern edge of Cairo. About 60,000 of Cairo's poorest residents call Garbage City home, most of them Coptic Christians. Our destination was the Cave Church; Garbage City is the only route to and from the church.
In the 1940's peasants in Upper Egypt were experiencing poor harvests and came to Cairo to better their financial standing by raising pigs, goats and other livestock. They soon discovered that sorting garbage was more profitable than raising livestock, and today entire families sort trash brought to them from all over Cairo in order to salvage and sell anything recyclable. They are known as the Zabbaleen which literally means 'garbage people'. Despite this apparently thriving industry, the Zabbaleen are among the poorest residents of Cairo and the city still lacks basic services such as running water, sewers and electricity.
These goats are feeding on organic waste.
The streets - such as they are - are very narrow and filled with garbage, making it difficult if not impossible for two vehicles to pass each other. You'll hear both Katie and me react to a truck approaching us in the video below. There was literally half an inch between it and our van as we passed each other! Kudos to our exceptional driver!
It was quite a sight to see.
The juxtaposition of the Garbage City slum and the beautiful Cave Church is remarkable, and seeing both was a fascinating experience!
➜ Top Tip
Evidently Garbage City is a bit tricky to find, so if you go via taxi or Uber, be sure you hire a driver who knows the area.