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Old Cairo

Old Cairo: The Historic Center of Egypt’s Capital

Old Cairo, or Masr al-Qadimah in Arabic, is a neighborhood south of Cairo, on the eastern bank of the Nile River, across from the island of Rhoda. As the name suggests, this is where the first people who lived in what would become Cairo lived.

The district of Old Cairo covers an area of approximately one square kilometer and is bounded by the walls of the ancient Roman fortress of Babylon on the east and the Nile River on the west. Some of the most notable landmarks in Old Cairo include the Hanging Church (also known as St. Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church), the Coptic Museum, the Ben Ezra Synagogue, and the Church of St. George.

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History of Old Cairo

The military fortress of Babylon is in the middle of old Cairo. It was used during the Roman and Byzantine times, but it may have been built on a site already there. Walls and turrets are still there today.

It was essential on the border between Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt from a military point of view. It was on the Nile, which runs about 400 meters west today. When the Romans took over, they put the Legion here right away.

Later, the castle was made bigger and stronger, maybe during the reigns of Emperors Trajan (98–117) and Arcadius (117–138). (395-408).

During the time of the Arabs, this castle was also called Qasr al-Sham. Al-Maqrizi, an Arab historian from 1364 to 1442, was the first to pass on the last word. He thought the name came from the fact that the Persians lit the castle towers with candles.

Amr ibn al-As took over Egypt in 639–642, and the first mosque in Egypt and Africa was built here, to the north and east of the citadel and the north of the fortress. This was the commander’s new capital, called Festat.

Invading this military fortress must be critical for the Arabs to take over the government.

The first Arab city in Egypt is Fustat. Even though the capital moved when the Umayyads, Abbasids, Toledo, and Fatimids were in charge, the town kept growing. In the 10th century, it was about 6 kilometers long and had 100,000 people.

Several buildings in the old city were destroyed by the Fustat 750 and 1168/1169. But the city was built over and over again. In the 13th century, Fustat was a hub for making steel, copper, soap, glass, paper, sugar, and textiles.

Many churches were built in Al-Hosn and south of Al-Hosn, which is considered one of the essential viruses. So, it’s unsurprising that many people in this area are Coptic Christians.

Christian Fustat was at its best around the thirteenth century. Abu al-Makarim counted 37 churches and five monasteries in Fustat, which Abu Salih al-Arman did at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

Old Cairo Map:

1- Coptic Museum

Old Cairo

The museum is near the Hanging Church in Old Cairo, where it can be found. It has pieces of buildings, tombstones and frescoes, miniatures, textiles, weapons, and things used in the liturgy.

2- Military Fortress Babylon

Even though it was destroyed at the turn of the 20th century, the three Roman military fortresses are still one of the most important Roman military installations.

They date back to the early Roman era and have been added several times. The fortress is an irregular pentagon about 300 meters long and 230 meters wide, and it has a narrow side to the south and from north to south.

In front of the entrance to the Coptic Museum, you can still see the restored defense towers, which have a 33-meter diameter and were built to control a drawbridge.

Over the north tower, the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George was later built. Especially the architecture of the southern tower can be looked at very well.

The walls comprise five or six layers of evenly cut limestone and three layers of burnt red bricks held together with lime mortar.

3- The Hanging Church in Old Cairo

The Hanging Church, also called el-Mu’allaqa or el-Mo’allaqa, is the most famous church in Old Cairo (Coptic Cairo). It was built over the south gate of the fortress and is south of the Coptic Museum.

The church was built in the fifth or sixth century, as shown by a wooden lintel in the museum that shows Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. It is dedicated to the Holy Virgin (Arabic: Kansat al-Ar Maryam).

At the time of Patriarch Abraham the Syrian, the church was fixed up (975-978). The church became more critical when the Patriarch’s seat moved from Alexandria to Cairo.

From Patriarch Christodulus (1047–1077) to the 14th century, many patriarchs were chosen, ordained, and put in place here (previously in the Church of St. Sergius). The church was where they lived and, in some cases, where they were buried.

4- Church of St. George

Old Cairo

The Greek Orthodox Church of St. George and the nearby monastery are north of the entrance to the Coptic Museum, on top of the fortress tower. The church is also where the Greek patriarchs are laid to rest.

Theodosius probably wrote about the monastery for the first time in the sixth century, but Eutychius’s account from the ninth century is the first one we know.

The current church is a dome from 1909 (dedicated on November 1), with a crown on top and 56 steps leading up to it. Five years ago, the old building burned down.

Inside, to the left of the door, there is a significant silver relief of St. George. The modern iconostasis covers the only altar with pictures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

5- Church of St Sergius & Bacchus in Old Cairo

Old Cairo

Church of St Sergius & Bacchus Near the northern end of the enclosure wall is an underpass leading to the inside of the old fortress, where several churches and the Ben Esra synagogue are located.

Behind the passage, to the left, are the six nunneries of St. George, Deir al-Bant, which have been here since the 15th century. The buildings, like the modern church of St. George, are arranged around a courtyard.

The 7 Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus is at the end of the alley that turns to the right. Tradition says this is the oldest church in Cairo and was built where the holy family stopped resting on their way to Egypt.

It is named after two soldiers who died as martyrs in er-Rusafa, Syria, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maximinus in 296. Athanasius, a secretary of the governor Abd el-Aziz ibn Marwan, built the church at the end of the 7th century (685-705). Until the 11th century, the church was the seat of a bishop.

6- Church of St. Barbara

Athanasius, a secretary of the governor Abd el-Aziz ibn Marwan, also built the church at the end of the 7th century (685-705). It was given as a gift to doctors St. Cyrus (Ab Qr) and St. John. From the church of el-Muallaqa in the 11th century, the relics of St. Barbara were transferred to the new building.

The Roman governor Markarian, the father of St. Barbara from Nicodemia, tortured his daughter after becoming a Christian and then killed her and her friend. In the 15th century, when the historian el-Maqrizi lived, it was one of the most famous churches in the area.

7- Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo

Ben Ezra Synagogue It is the oldest synagogue in Egypt. In the 1980s, the Egyptian Antiquities Authority and the American Jewish Congress worked to repair the synagogue. Now it is a museum, and there are no services here anymore. You can go to the synagogue every morning from 9 to 16.

The land where the current synagogue is located was given to the Coptic community by Amr ibn al-Aw in 641. The New Testament says that the Copts consider Jeremiah one of their prophets.

When Ahmad ibn Tulun (835-884) came to power, Christians had to pay a yearly tax of 20,000 gold dinars—in conversations with the Patriarch of Alexandria, Rabbi Abraham ben Ezra of Jerusalem (1091-1167) persuaded the Christians to hand over their church to the Jewish community because the Jews paid the Christians’ tax.

8- Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque

Old Cairo

Amr Ibn El Al Mosque is the oldest mosque in Egypt and Africa. It was built in 642/643 (22 AH) under Amr ibn al-Aal but no longer resembles the original mosque.

During the reign of the Umayyad caliph Muawiya I, the mosque was rebuilt from the ground up and got a minaret. In the year 711 AH, an open chapel was added to the mosque. \

In the year 212 AH (827 AH), seven naves were constructed before the prayer niche to make the mosque the size it is today. The four corner minarets no longer exist.

The Fustat fire burned the mosque in 1169 AH (564 AH), but Sultan Salah al-Din rebuilt it four years later.

Old Cairo Tour:

Old Cairo has a long history shaped by some of the oldest civilizations. From the time of the pharaohs to the present, the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Ottomans have established themselves, and these groups added to their culture and changed how they lived.

When you go to Old Cairo, you can take a memorable walk along the walls of the ancient Roman fortress, the hanging church, the Ben Ezra synagogue, the church of Santa Barbara, and the mosque of Amr Ibn Al-‘As, which was built in 642 AD and was the first mosque in Egypt.

About the author

Egypt Planners Team is a highly experienced travel agency specializing in memorable trips to Egypt. The team comprises expert travel planners and tour guides with a deep knowledge of Egypt's history, culture, and top tourist destinations.