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Old Cairo Churches

Old Cairo is the historic link between Egypt’s pharaonic and Islamic civilizations. Here, the fortress-town of Babylon, where the Holy Family is thought to have taken refuge, developed into a power house of native Christianity which today remains the heart of Cairo’s Coptic community.

Old Cairo is also known as the district of the seven churches, which are the Church of Abu Serga (Church of St Sergius), the Hanging Church (Al Mo’allaqa Church), The Church of St Barbara, The monastery of St George , The Greek Orthodox Church of St George,The Church of St George (Church of Mari Guirguis) and the Church of the Virgin .

Nestled between the Hanging Church and the Roman towers of Babylon, The Coptic Museum is one of the highlights of Old Cairo, which houses a rare collection of Christian antiquities.

• The Church of Abu Serga
The church is dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus, who were soldier-saints that were martyred during the 4th century in Syria by Maximilan. The original building was probably built in the 5th century. It burnt down during the fire of Fustat around 750 AD. It was restored during the 8th century, and has been rebuilt and restored constantly since medieval times. It is said to be an ideal model of the early Coptic churches. The Church of Abu Serga retains the basilical form typical of early Coptic churches. The low ceiling and the antique columns topped with Corinthian capitals support the women’s gallery, where you can inspect its thirteenth-century haikal screen and bits of frescoes and mosaics in the central apse. It has 12 unique columns decorated with paintings of the Apostles. This church resembles religious structures in Constantinople and Rome. The main attraction is the Steps to the right of the altar descending into a crypt which contains the remains of the original church where the Holy Family are believed to have stayed.

• The Church of St Barbara
It is one of the most beautiful Coptic Churches. The eleven-century Church of St Barbara replaced an earlier Church of SS. Cyrus and John, which was razed during Al-Hakim’s assault on Fustat. Unlike others in the quarter, its wooden-vaulted roof is lofty, with skylights and windows illuminating a nave flanked by Arabic arches with Fatimid tie beams. The same goes for its minbaresque pulpit and inlaid haikal. The right-hand wall relates the life of Jesus in colorful tableaux, while the western sanctuary contains the relics of St Barbara. Tradition holds that she was the daughter of a pagan merchant who was murdered for preaching Christianity in the third century.

• The Hanging Church
It was built over the remains of the southern gate of the Roman Fortress of “Babylon”. Therefore it was called “the Hanging Church” or Al Mu’allaqah.

The church was first built, in Basilcan style, in the 3rd or 4th century. The main church is thought to have been built between the 5th and 6th centuries with the southeastern section called the "upper church" being added later. The church was destroyed in the 9th century. It was rebuilt in the 11th century and became the seat of the Coptic patriarch until the 14th century. It became known to travelers during the 14th and 15th centuries as the "staircase church" because of the twenty-nine steps that lead to the entrance.

The main nave – whose ceiling is ribbed like an upturned boat or Ark- is separated from its side aisles by sixteen pillars, formerly painted with images of saints. Behind the marbel pulpit, beautifully carved screens hide three haikals (altar areas) from the congregation. Their star patterns are accentuated by inlaid bone and ivory.

Among its relics, the Church owns an olive stone chewed by the Virgin Mary , to whom El-Mu’allaqah is dedicated.

• The Monastery of St George
The monastery of St George is now the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. The main building of the monastery is closed to visitors. But you can walk down into a lofty hall once belonged to a Fatimid mansion and into the Chapel beyond, with its tall, narrow wooden doors, which boasts a cedar wood casket containing relics of St George. To the left of this building is a small room for the “chain-wrapping ritual”, sympolizing the saint’s persecution by the Romans.

• The Greek Orthodox Church of St George
This Church is the only one in Egypt with round dome, its dark interior is perfumed with incense and pierced by sunbeams filtered through stained glass. A (barred) flight of steps descends into the bowels of the Roman Tower. The present church was built in 1904 after a fire destroyed the original tenth-century structure

• The Church of St George
This church is founded in 681 by Athanasius the scribe. From the original foundation only the Hall of Nuptials survived a conflagration in the mid-nineteenth century, after which the current structure was erected.

• The Church of the Virgin,
This church is also identified by its alternative name of Qasriet Al-Rihan (Basil Pot) after the favorite herb of the Orthodox Church. Because Al-Hakim’s mother was of that faith , the church was given to the Greek community for the duration of his reign, but later returned to the Copts. Largely rebuilt in the eighteenth century, it’s chiefly notable for several icons painted by John the Armenian in 1778.


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