Also known as Old Cairo, this area grew around the Roman fortress of Babylon built at the time of Augustus after his conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. Nowadays it's considered the area within the walls of the old fortress.
The majority of Christians in Egypt belong to the Oriental Coptic church founded by the apostle Mark in the first century AD. We spent a few hours walking around this area known as Coptic Cairo and visited a small handful of its churches as well as the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
The Hanging Church
While researching our trip to Egypt, I became intrigued by the name of this church. As it turns out, the church was built above a gatehouse of the Roman fortress although the ground level has risen about 18' over the centuries so it's "hanging" position isn't as obvious as it once was. The Hanging Church was founded in the 3rd century and is one of the oldest churches in Egypt, thought to have originally begun as a chapel for soldiers at the gatehouse.
Mary said, "There thou wilt find a one-eyed man carrying on his shoulder a jar full of water; seize him, for he it is at whose hands this miracle shall be manifested.”
Detail of the beautiful marble pulpit.
This is the main altar screen which is made of ivory inlaid with ebony. Notice the different Coptic cross designs. So interesting and pretty!
View of the courtyard from atop the 29 steps.
Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church
As related in the Bible, an angel came to Joesph in a dream soon after Jesus was born telling him to take Mary and the baby to Egypt to escape King Herod who threatened to kill Jesus. It is thought that the family spent three months living beneath the modern day Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church while Joseph worked at the Roman fortress.
You can visit the cave under the church where it's believed they lived.
Church of Saint George
This church has been referred to as a "gem" and I totally agree; it's beautiful! It's actually Greek Orthodox (you can barely see the Greek flag in the photo above). St. George was built in the 10th century, but later destroyed by a fire and rebuilt with the reconstruction completed in the early 20th century. Like the Hanging Church, it was built above Roman ruins.
With its dark stained wood, marble and stained glass, the interior is beautiful.
There are no pews for all intents and purposes; parishioners stand throughout the service.
The interior of the dome.
This is a wall with acknowledgements of those who have given money to the church and whose prayers have been answered.
I love this mosaic; the major donors to the church are incorporated into it!
Ben Ezra Synagogue
Located in Coptic Cairo, Ben Ezra Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Cairo, built in the 9th Century AD. It's no longer used for services partly due to the minuscule number of Jews in Egypt although it's a very popular tourist attraction and it was busy with tourists when we were there. To add to its significance, in 1890 about a quarter million documents were found in the synagogue which offer a detailed picture of life of Jews in North Africa from the 11th to 13th centuries.
This opening on the grounds of the synagogue represents the place where it's said the pharaoh's daughter found Moses in the reeds, and also where Mary found water to wash Jesus.
➜ Top Tips
Coptic Cairo has a lot to offer and we barely scratched the surface. Depending on your interests, you could easily spend a day there.
If you're on your own, the Cairo metro has a stop in Coptic Cairo. We didn't take it, but we were told it's a good way to get to this area of the city. Mar Girgis is the stop in Coptic Cairo near the churches.