Coptic Cairo, also known as Mogama’ el Adyan (Interfaith Complex), is an area unlike any other in Egypt. It forms part of Old Cairo, the original city center that has stood for centuries. Interestingly, Coptic Cairo predates the actual founding of Cairo by the Muslim Fatimids in 969 AD. Let’s delve into the rich history, architecture, and spiritual significance of this remarkable district.

The Origins of Coptic Cairo


1. Babylon Fortress and Early Settlement

In the annals of ancient history, the roots of Coptic Cairo run deep. Here’s a glimpse into the past:

  • Persian Origins: As far back as the 6th century BC, the Persians established a fort on the northern banks of the Nile River, just north of Memphis. This settlement bore the evocative name of Babylon, reminiscent of the ancient city along the Euphrates. The Persians even engineered a canal that connected the Nile (at Fustat) to the Red Sea. However, over time, during the Ptolemaic period, Babylon and its inhabitants gradually faded into relative obscurity.


Now, let’s shift our focus to the Hanging Church, also known as Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church:


The Hanging Church in Cairo

  • Location: The Hanging Church stands proudly in Coptic Cairo (also known as Old Cairo), near the iconic Babylon Fortress.
  • Historical Roots: The church’s origins trace back to the third century. It ranks among the oldest churches in Egypt.
  • Name and Description: The church derives its intriguing name from its unique position—suspended above a gatehouse of the Babylon Fortress. To reach it, visitors ascend twenty-nine steps, leading early travelers to dub it “the Staircase Church.” Over time, changes in land elevation have buried most of the Roman tower supporting the church, reducing its visual impact. The entrance, marked by iron gates under a pointed stone arch, opens into a narrow courtyard adorned with modern biblical art designs. Beyond this courtyard lies an eleventh-century outer porch.
  • Significance: The Hanging Church holds historical and religious importance within the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. It has undergone numerous restorations, including a comprehensive repair completed in 2011.
  • Marian Apparitions: Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared in a dream to Pope Abraham in the 970s, linked to the story of how the Mokattam Mountain was moved through the unwavering faith of Simon the Tanner.


2. Flourishing Christianity and Roman Rule

As the local population organized towards revolt, the Romans recognized the strategic importance of the region. They took over the fort and relocated it nearby, creating the Babylon Fortress. During the Roman era, St. Mark and his successors played a crucial role in converting a substantial portion of the population from pagan beliefs to Christianity. However, Christians faced persecution under Emperor Diocletian around 300 AD, even after the Edict of Milan declared religious toleration.


Churches and Growth

Despite challenges, the Coptic Church flourished. Churches like the Church of Saint Barbara and the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus were built in Old Cairo during the reign of Arcadius (395-408). These ancient structures still stand as a testament to the enduring faith of the Coptic community.


3. Arab Conquest and Fustat

When the Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt in the 7th century, they established a new city called Fustat, just outside the walls of the Babylon Fortress. Fustat became the administrative capital, surpassing Alexandria in importance. During this time, the Copts were allowed to build several churches within the old fortress area.


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The Holy Family’s Visit


Christian tradition holds that the Holy Family visited this area during their Flight into Egypt, seeking refuge from King Herod. It is believed that they stayed at the site of Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (also known as Abu Serga). This connection to the Holy Family adds to the spiritual significance of Coptic Cairo.


The Spiritual Significance

The connection between the Holy Family and Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church is profound. Here’s why:

  • Historical Anchoring: The church’s existence predates the founding of Cairo itself. Its origins trace back to the 4th century AD, making it one of the oldest Christian places of worship in Egypt. The Holy Family’s presence within its walls adds layers of historical significance.
  • Holy Relics: Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church houses a crypt where it is believed that the Holy Family rested during their journey. Pilgrims and visitors can still see the stone bench where Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus purportedly sat. This tangible connection to the past evokes a sense of awe and reverence.
  • Spiritual Pilgrimage: Today, the church remains an essential pilgrimage site for Coptic Christians and other believers. Devotees come to seek blessings, pray, and reflect on the Holy Family’s resilience and faith. The atmosphere within the church resonates with centuries of devotion.


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The Synagogue of Ben Ezra: A Tale of Coexistence

Nestled within the historic embrace of Coptic Cairo, the Synagogue of Ben Ezra stands as a remarkable testament to religious harmony. Here are the intriguing details:

  • Origins: Dating back to the 9th century, this ancient synagogue has witnessed centuries of history, cultural exchange, and interfaith interactions.
  • Interwoven Histories: The synagogue’s existence is closely intertwined with the Coptic Christian community and the Jewish population in Egypt. It serves as a living reminder of the coexistence and shared cultural heritage between these two ancient traditions.
  • Location: Situated in the heart of Coptic Cairo, the synagogue’s physical proximity to Coptic churches underscores the historical connections between these religious communities.
  • Cultural Exchange: Over the years, the synagogue has seen scholars, poets, and mystics engage in dialogue, exchange ideas, and celebrate their respective faiths. It embodies the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.
  • Architectural Beauty: Explore its ancient interiors adorned with intricate designs, inscriptions, and symbols. The synagogue’s architecture reflects a blend of Jewish and Egyptian influences.
  • Legacy: The Synagogue of Ben Ezra continues to be a place of worship, reflection, and cultural appreciation. Its walls echo the prayers and stories of generations past.


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Coptic Cairo Egypt beckons travelers with open arms, inviting them to traverse the sacred paths of ancient Christianity. As you plan your journey to Egypt, consider immersing yourself in the spiritual and historical wonders of Coptic Cairo. Horizon Travel offers the best trips to Egypt 2024, that seamlessly blend cultural exploration with the enchanting landscapes of Egypt. Embark on a pilgrimage to Coptic Cairo, where every step is a revelation of the enduring threads of ancient Christianity.

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