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Coptic Cairo – The heart of the Christian world in Egypt

Coptic Cairo – The heart of the Christian world in Egypt

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Coptic Cairo, also called mogama’ el adyan (Interfaith Complex), is a place in Egypt that is different from any other. It has been part of “Old Cairo,” the original city center, for hundreds of years. Coptic Cairo, with its fortress, churches, and synagogue, was there before the Muslim Fatimids founded Cairo in 969 AD. Coptic Cairo is known as the center of Christianity in Old Cairo. It has places of worship that date back to when the pharaonic religions of Ancient Egypt had died out, and Islam had not yet come. Coptic Egypt still has some of the oldest churches in Egypt, and some of these churches were built as early as the 4th century AD. People also think the Holy Family stopped here for a short time on their way to Egypt to escape Herod.


What is the Coptic Cairo?

One of the most exciting parts of Cairo is the Coptic Quarter. The Copts were the original people of Egypt, and they were the people who lived in ancient Cairo before the Arabs came. Later, the word “Coptic” came to mean “Christian Egyptian” since most of these people still live in this part of the city.


What does the word “Coptic” mean?

Coptic Christians are the largest Christian group in Egypt and the Middle East, and they are called Coptic Orthodox Christians. The Demotic Egyptian language, the last language of the Ancient Egyptians, gave rise to the Coptic language. The word “Copt” is thought to have come from the Ancient Egyptian word “Hwt-Ka-Ptah,” which means “House of the God Ptah.” Later on, the Greeks called Egypt “Aigyptos,” while Egyptian Coptic Christians called it “Kyptos.” At first, the word “Copt” meant all Egyptians, and after the Islamic conquest of Egypt in 639 AD, it came to mean only Coptic Christians.


Coptic Cairo Map


The center of Christianity was During the time of the pharaohs:

When powerful pharaohs ruled Egypt, this town was called the Babylon of Egypt. In those long-ago times, Babylon was a critical military spot. First, it was in a good place on the banks of the Nile, and ships went to Memphis, Egypt, and Heliopolis from here. The city of Babylon also had a port. Goods from other parts of the country were brought here and then sent to the capital and other cities. It was also the center of Christianity. People who are Christians and live in Egypt are called Copts.


Coptic Cairo’s History

Coptic Cairo is a part of Egypt’s Old Cairo that people think the holy family went to (the Virgin Mary, child Jesus, and Saint Joseph). The area has many historic buildings, such as the Babylon Fortress, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, and the Greek Church of St. George. Some of these buildings date back to the 6th century BC. Before Islam took over Egypt, Coptic Cairo was a stronghold of Christianity. However, most churches and other buildings in Coptic Cairo today were built after Islam took over Egypt. Persians built Babylon on the Nile fort in the sixth century BC. They also built a canal that linked the Nile to the Red Sea. Because of its strategic location, this canal became important in the area.

Later, when Christianity became more popular, and people in the area started making plans to rebel, the Romans took over the fortress and stayed nearby. Trajan, emperor of Rome, opened the canal, which helped trade. After the Coptic Church split from the Roman and Byzantine churches, many churches were built in the Old Cairo area when Arcadius was in charge (395–408). When the Arabs were in order, many churches were also built around the Old Cairo fortress.

The district also has many other historically significant churches, such as Saint Mary Church, Saint Mercurius Church, Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church, Church of the Holy Virgin, Saint Barbara Church, The Church of Saint Menas, Nunnery and Church of St. George, and Monastery and Church of St. George. Architecture in the Coptic quarter is exciting because it is a mix of styles from Greek, Egyptian, Arabic, and Byzantine cultures. And often, we’ll find parts of different styles and eras in the same building.


Check out our guide to Coptic Cairo Attractions here.


What to see in Cairo’s Coptic Quarter

  • The Coptic Museum 

Coptic Cairo in Coptic (Old) Cairo

This museum is the best place in Egypt to learn about Coptic history. It has more than 1,600 items from the beginnings of Coptic Christianity in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. This museum is known for its Arabic and Coptic bibles written on deerskin in the 11th and 13th centuries and Christian writings on papyrus from the 6th century. There are also collections of pottery, glass, metal, wood, and textiles, as well as a display of icons. Undoubtedly, the Coptic Museum is in the heart of the neighborhood and has the world’s biggest collection of Egyptian Christian items. It has frescoes, reliefs, manuscripts, religious objects, and more that tell the story of Egypt from its beginnings to the present day.  


  • Hanging Church 

Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo

It is certainly the most well-known church in Coptic Cairo. It is called Al-Moallaqa, but most people call it the Hanging Church or the Suspended Church because it was built over one of the doors of the Roman fortress. From the 7th century to the 13th century, it was where the Coptic Patriarch lived. The Hanging Church is a spiritually important place that people of many different faiths visit to enjoy the spiritual atmosphere. The church’s wooden dome looks like Noah’s Ark, which is mentioned in the Old Testament. There are three sanctuaries inside the church. One is for the Virgin Mary, one for St. George, and one for St. John the Baptist. In addition to its beautiful decorations, the church has a marble altar and seven altars with 110 icons, most of which are made of ebony and some of which are inlaid with ivory. The oldest and holiest icon dates back to the 8th century. One of the best things about the church is the pulpit, which dates back to the 5th century and still has some of its 15 original columns. It was built to look like the Santa Barbara Church.


  • Babylon Fortress in Coptic Cairo

Babylon-Fortress in old Cairo

The Babylon Citadel, built in an ancient Egyptian town with the same name, is one of the first things you’ll see when you get to Coptic Cairo. Even though it is named after the city of Babylon in Mesopotamia, the castle was built by the Romans around 100 AD, during the Ptolemaic era in ancient Egypt. It was also called the Citadel of Egypt when the Roman Empire was in power. The Roman emperors made the walls of the fortress 3 meters thick, and the towers were 10 meters tall and 31 meters around. After the Arabs took over, the area around Qasr al-Sham Castle became known as Babylon.


  • Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga)

Abu Serga in old Cairo

This is the Coptic Quarter’s oldest church. It was built in the 11th century, but the central pillars are from the 4th century. It is named after two famous saints, Sergius and Bacchus, who died for their Christian beliefs at al-Resafa in Syria. This church has a special place in the religion of the Copts because it is connected to the Holy Family’s journey after they fled to Egypt. Today, this cave is a crypt you can get to by going down some stairs inside a church.


  • Church of St. George 

Church of St. George 

St. George’s is one of the few round churches built in Egypt. It is built on top of an old Roman tower that leads down to a monastery. The church’s interior is known for its stained glass windows and beautiful woodwork. St. George’s is one of the few churches in Coptic Cairo still in use and is the most important Greek Orthodox church in Egypt. It has been around since the 10th century, and some of the original building is still there. It has a library with old books and manuscripts and many relics of the saint to whom it is dedicated. Visitors of all religions are welcome at any time except in the monastery, which is closed to the public.


  •  Church of St. Barbara in Coptic Cairo

Saint Barbara Church in Coptic Cairo

Saint Barbara Church in Coptic Cairo is a church of great historical importance, dedicated initially to San Ciro and San Juan. From the 13th century onwards, it was dedicated to Saint Barbara as her relics were brought to this church. It houses some of the oldest and rarest icons of Coptic art.


  • Ben Ezra Synagogue

The oldest Jewish synagogue in Egypt is the Ben ‘Ezra Synagogue. It was the center of many parties, meetings, and prayers, but it isn’t used anymore. The name of the synagogue was chosen to honor Abraham ibn ‘Ezra, a Jewish religious scholar and thinker. Ben ‘Ezra has everything that makes a temple a synagogue. In the middle is the bimah, or pulpit, from which prayers were read. The hekhal, which shows where people should pray, is the most important part of a synagogue. It is decorated in an Arabesque style and inlaid with a mother of pearl, showing how different art styles can work together. It has the Hebrew words for the Ten Commandments written on it. Since the 9th century AD, it has been deep in the winding streets of Coptic Cairo. Two different myths say that the synagogue is built on the spot where the daughter of Pharaoh found Moses hiding in the reeds of the Nile or where the Temple of Jeremiah used to be.


How to get there?

The metro is the best way to get to Coptic Cairo. Take the metro to the Mar Girgis station, where you get off to go to Coptic Cairo. Since there are some shops near the metro station.

Tips for visiting Cairo’s Coptic Quarter

  • To get into a church, both men and women must cover their shoulders and knees.
  • Mar Girgis is the closest metro stop.
  • The bathrooms in the Hanging Church are free.
  • Churches have Mass on Sundays, and some also have it on Fridays.
  • You can see everything of interest in this neighborhood in half a day since everything is so close to each other.


Here are all the churches you can see in the Coptic Quarter of Old Cairo.

You can also go to a lot of other churches in Cairo

  • St Virgin Mary Church

The St. Virgin Mary church is the oldest in Egypt and was made to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church was first built by many names, such as Meniet El Sudan, Bustan El Adawia, and El Martouti. The St. Virgin Mary Church is in an area called Maadi, which is 13 km south of the city center and on the east bank of the Nile. A rumor says that on March 12, 1976, a miracle happened when a holy book was opened to the verse in Isaiah that says, “Blessed be Egypt, my people.” The church of St. Virgin Mary is one of the most important places for Copts in Egypt. The beautiful St. Virgin Mary Church is a must-see in Cairo.


  • The “Cave Church” – Monastery of St. Simon, the Tanner

The Cave Church-Monastery of St. Simon, the Tanner in Cairo, Egypt

This fantastic cave church (technically, churches, since the St. Simon monastery complex has seven churches) is unlike anything else in Egypt. The monastery’s main hall is cut into the Moqattam Hills and can hold more than 20,000 people. It is named after the Coptic Saint Simon, who, according to a legend, moved the Moqattam mountain in 979 AD to show how strongly he believed in God. The Zabbaleen people of Cairo’s Garbage City built the cave church, a place of worship, an educational center, a kindergarten, and a school for the deaf.


  •  St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral

St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral is a Coptic church in the Abbassia District of Cairo, Egypt. In the cathedral, the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church lives. When Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria was in charge of the Coptic Orthodox Church, he had it built. In 1969, he gave it to them. The name of the Coptic Church honors St. Mark the Evangelist, an apostle of Jesus who started the church. Things from his life are in there. This is by far the largest cathedral in Africa and the Middle East.


You can visit any of these Churches in Cairo and book a Private Full Day Cairo City Tour to Islamic and Coptic Cairo to enjoy the Wonderful Churches in Cairo.




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