Coptic Cairo is actually the modern name given to the oldest part of the city. Lying in an area within the walls of the 3rd century Roman fortress of Babylon is a haven of quiet, narrow lanes and ancient holy places. It is the real Cairo that you have come to visit, with people going about their daily business, oblivious to foreign visitors.
The main entrance, leading to the interesting Coptic Museum and the beautiful Hanging Church, is between two round Roman towers, against which the waters of the Nile once lapped before the river shifted its course to the west centuries ago. A second, stepped entrance to the north leads along a sunken alley to the rest of the churches, the synagogue, and the cemeteries. Standing within the compound are the Churches of St. Barbara, St. Sergius, St. George, and the most beautiful of all, the Hanging Church. There is also the Convent of St. George and the Ben Ezra Synagogue, with its Greek Orthodox Cemetery.
The Coptic Museum houses artifacts which trace the origins of Christian art in the Near East. The building itself is beautiful, especially the older, southern wing. There is also a garden and café (which was under restoration when I was there in Dec 2003). Hours are from 9am to 5pm daily and 9am to 3pm during Ramadan.
Long before the Crusaders carried tales of his legendary exploits back to Europe, St. George was venerated throughout the Christian Middle East as Mar Girgis. Famed for his dragon slaying feat, he is said to have been a Roman legionary who defied a decree by Emperor Diocletian outlawing the worship of Christ and was martyred for his beliefs some time in the 3rd century. There has been a church dedicated to St. George on this site since the 10th century, but today's striking round structure dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The circular form of the church echoes the shape of the 1st century Roman gate tower on top of which it was built. The remains of the tower are still visible beneath the church on the north side. It is frequented by members of the local Christian community who regularly light the candles and say prayers here. Open to the public daily from 8am to 12:45pm and 2:30pm to 3:15pm.
The Hanging Church is ornately decorated on the inside and is definitely worth a visit. See my separate entry about this beautiful and unusual building.