Coptic Cairo is the only area of the city to have such a concentration of Christian churches and other sites dating back to the period between the decline of the pharaonic religion
and the advent of the Islamic religion, a time when the country had a Christian majority. Coptic Cairo was built predominantly around the fortress of Babylon on top of the remains of its city wall.
Here you will find the Coptic Museum, custodian of the most extensive collection of Coptic Christian testimonies worldwide. Founded in 1910, the museum traces the history of the Coptic Christian religion
from the advent of Christianity to the Ottoman era. It exhibits artifacts from many Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods. Six churches date back to the early Christian age.
The Hanging Church, or Church of the Virgin Mary, was built in the 9th century on top of the walls of the fort of Babylon.
The effect of this “suspension” is now significantly diminished for ground-level growth around the walls.
Inside Coptic Cairo are numerous churches, including St. Sergius, which dates back to the 5th century and was probably built on a crypt where the Holy Family (Jesus, Joseph, and Mary) found refuge in Egypt.
Beyond the church is the Ben Ezra Synagogue, the oldest in all of Cairo, founded in the 9th century and also supposed to have been the original site of the ancient Temple of Jeremiah or the site where the daughter of the Pharaoh found Moses.
Learn about Coptic Cairo’s most well-known landmarks:
1- St. Sergius Church
St. Sergius is one of the earliest Christian churches established in the third or fourth century AD. Saint Sergius Church was named after a former army leader who converted to Christianity.
The Christians erected a church on this spot because, according to legend, the Holy Family would have sought safety in this location, which used to be a cave.
2- Synagogue of Ben Ezra
This synagogue is a beautiful architectural work of art. The outside is unremarkable, but the inside stands out; it is just exquisite.
The first floor, as well as the basic layout, are typical of a Coptic church. Indeed, the synagogue was initially owned by Christians who were compelled to sell it due to financial constraints.
3- St. Barbara’s Church
Sainte-Barbe is regarded as a Christian martyr. She converted to Christianity against her father’s advice as the daughter of a wealthy pagan family.
Her father beat her to death, and her relics are now interred in this church. Inside the church is a little chapel separated from the body of the church by a wooden barrier with an arched doorway,
which houses Sainte-remains Barbe’s and is adorned with highly exquisite Coptic icons.
4- The Church of the Hanging
The Sainte-Marie Church is a stunning structure. It is accessed through steps, preceded by a hallway with mosaics portraying biblical themes.
Because it is erected above the palm trunks that support it like stilts, this church is known as the Hanging Church. These trunks originate from the fourth century and continue to sustain the church today.
The magnificent interior includes a large marble pulpit with 13 pillars depicting Jesus and his twelve apostles. One of the columns is dark, representing Judas, the betrayer of Jesus.
The Church has a Christian fresco painted in a precious vault from the 4th century and is in excellent shape, having never been renovated.
A Coptic icon portrays the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her arms in the main chamber. When we travel around her, it seems like she follows us with her gaze.
The Copts refer to it as the Egyptian Mona Lisa, even though the likeness is tenuous.
5- The Coptic Museum
This museum is housed in a historic private mansion designed in the style of a mosque. The owner was an avid collector, amassing dozens, if not hundreds, of Coptic art pieces from the Greco-Roman era
until the Muslim rule. The architecture of this mosque-museum is just magnificent: woodwork with exquisitely carved details adorns every chamber of this enormous castle,
which includes an internal courtyard with shutters made of the best woodwork. Similarly, the artifacts acquired are rich, reflecting the growth of Coptic art through the years.
6- St. George’s Church
Saint Georges, located in the center of the Coptic neighborhood, welcomes guests from all over the globe with open arms. The church was erected on the site of an old Babylonian citadel in Cairo in the 10th century.
The latter was constructed during the reign of Octave Augustus, the first Roman emperor and Julius Caesar’s adoptive son, and was later converted into a Christian and Jewish enclave.
The Coptic church is built atop one of the historic Roman towers and is connected to the Saint George monastery, which is not open to the public.
The church, which is entirely round in design, impresses with its vastness and uncommon originality. It is, in fact, Egypt’s only circular church. This house of worship,
with a colorful dome in vivid hues, is named after one of the most prominent saints in the Middle East, who was beheaded in 303 for breaking an order outlawing the practice of Christianity.
A few steps lead to the doors and then a path spanning the remnants of the ancient tower, where the bas-relief is flanked by a depiction of Saint George defeating a monster.
The inside, about the same size as the outside, is decorated with pictures of the Saints fighting for Christianity.
7- St. Simeon Monastery
The Monastery of Saint Simon, popularly known as “the cave church,” is situated on Mokattam Mountain, south of Cairo, in an area known as “Zabbaleen City” owing to the vast number of trash collectors
(the Zabbaleen) that dwell there. With a capacity of 20,000 people, it is the biggest church in the Middle East.
The hamlet of Mokattam is 98 percent Christian; hence a church was considered necessary. In 1976, the first Coptic church in Mokattam was erected this way.
It recalls the miracle of Saint Simon Tanner’s relocation of the hill of Mokattam from the area of Lake Elephant to its present position during the Fatimid dynasty in the 10th century.
Several more churches, notably the abbey of Saint-Simon L, were later erected in the Mokattam caverns.
Explore Cairo’s Attractions
Coptic Cairo is one of the most attractive and historical destinations in Egypt. Many beautiful churches are fascinating to visit. For our Egypt travel packages, you can enjoy an organized and magical trip between the attractions of Egypt and a cruise on the Nile.