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My introduction to Coptic Quarter in Cairo
When I started living in Cairo, my neighbour Miriam became my first friend. She is a very pious Coptic Christian. Thus my initial knowledge of this ancient faith came from her and her tales got me hooked. A few weeks later, a visit to the actual Coptic Cairo, or Mar Girgis as it is locally called, helped me understand the Christian history of Egypt better and I came face to face with religion as old as time. Egyptian Copts follow the Coptic Orthodox Church and consider themselves the descendants of Ancient Egyptians, who were the first people to convert to Christianity. The word “Copt” is derived from the Arabic word “Qibt” – or “Gibt” which comes from the Greek word “Egyptos” meaning “Egypt.”. In fact, the ancient city of Memphis (predecessor of Cairo) was known as “Hikaptah” (Ha-Kaptah) in 3100 BC and it was at the time, the first capital of Ancient Egypt. The history of the Coptic Church is intimately tied to Christian monasticism and this ancient tradition is still practiced in Egypt.
Discovering Biblical Egypt, the refuge of the Holy Family
Important religious sites apart from Coptic Quarter
Exploring Coptic Cairo is like walking down history
A Guide to Coptic Quarter in Cairo
The Coptic Cairo Quarter is one of the most historic and beautiful spots with many buildings going back to the 6th century BC. Presenting a guide to the not to be missed spots of Coptic Cairo.
How to Reach
The Metro is the easiest way to reach Coptic Cairo. The Mar Girgis station is located right outside the Coptic Cairo quarter and from Midan Tahrir (Tahrir Square) near the Egyptian Museum, take the Metro south for Mar Girgis. The ticket costs around 1 Egyptian Pound and there are connections every few minutes.
Visiting Coptic Quarter in Cairo is a half to full-day activity depending on your interest in religious history and relics. The Coptic Museum itself takes at least an hour.
What to see in Coptic Quarter
- Old Roman Walls – This is the first thing that you will see upon exiting the metro. In the 2nd century, the Romans built a fortress in this Cairo neighbourhood and called it Babylon. This fortress was built to control traffic and trade along the Nile and supposedly had a connection to the Red Sea canal. The remnants of the Roman walls of the now completely disappeared fortress are visible from the street and is a free attraction. no fee for viewing them or taking photographs.
- The Hanging Church – Also known as the St Virgin Mary’s Church, this old church takes its name from its location a.k.a sited above a gateway in the old Roman fortress. It is still a functioning Coptic church and has several beautiful religious icons.
- The Monastery and Church of St George – It is an early 20th-century church and also the only round church in Egypt.
- Abu Serga/The Church of St. Sergius and St. Bacchus – A 5th-century Coptic church with beautiful interiors containing 24 interior columns and 12th-century iconography on the walls.
- Ben Ezra Synagogue – This is the oldest synagogue in Egypt, which was originally built as a church in the 4th century. The building was sold to pay the taxes imposed on the church by Ibn Tulun’s government and was bought in the late 9th century by Abraham Ben Ezra, former Rabbi of Jerusalem. The synagogue is named after him. This synagogue houses the famous Geniza, discovered in the 19th century to be a treasure trove of ancient and rare Jewish manuscripts, which have given scholars insight into the North African Jewish community of the 11th and 13th centuries. According to legends, an adjacent spring marks the spot where the Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses among the reeds.
- The Coptic Museum – Founded in 1908, this fantastic museum houses Coptic art from the earliest days of Christianity in Egypt right through to early Islam. The building itself is exceptionally beautiful with elaborate woodcarving in all the galleries. The exhibits include sculptures that show obvious continuity from the Ptolemaic period, rich textiles, and whole walls of monastery frescoes, along with the oldest book of psalms in the world, the Psalms of David, with two original wooden covers. Visiting Hours – 8 am – 4 pm Entrance Fees – adult/student 100/50 Egyptian Pounds, camera 50 Egyptian Pounds Allow a few hours to enjoy this museum to the fullest.
- The Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner or The Cave Church – Located in the El Mokattam hills area near the Zabbaleen slum or Garbage City, the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner has an amphitheater with a seating capacity of 20,000. This is the largest church in the Middle East.
Things to remember when visiting Coptic Cairo
- Visitors must have their shoulders and knees covered to enter churches or mosques.
- Churches celebrate Mass on Sunday, and some on Friday as well.
- There are a few basic cafes, with not-so-clean toilets, scattered among the churches. There are also toilets at the Coptic Museum and the Hanging Church. Bring your own toilet paper.
- Bring small change if you wish to make donations at the churches.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring sun hat.
P.S – This blog post is part of the weekly series called the Cairo Chronicles. Every week, Maverickbird will try to focus on a new theme, emotion, and beauty of expat life in the exciting, maddening city of Cairo.
Follow the rest of the Egypt series here
- THE MOSQUE OF ABU DAHAB
- THE GAYER ANDERSON MUSEUM IN CAIRO
- MANIAL PALACE IN CAIRO
- AL GHURIYA MOSQUE-MAUSOLEUM
- COPTIC QUARTER OF CAIRO
- IBN TULUN MOSQUE IN CAIRO
- MOSQUE-OF-AL-REFAIE IN CAIRO
- BEAUTY OF SULTAN HASSAN MOSQUE MADRASSA
- KHAN EL KHALILI MARKET IN CAIRO
- CAIRO MUIZZ STREET WALKING TOUR
- SOUQ AL GOMA IN PHOTOS
- TANOURA DANCE OF EGYPT
- THE BLUE MOSQUE IN CAIRO
- CAIRO FOOD TOUR
- SULTAN AL-MU’AYYAD MOSQUE
- STREET OF TENTMAKERS IN CAIRO
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE