Cairo Stories and Tips

Exploring Coptic Cairo and Shopping at the Khan

Travel Photo by IgoUgo member

Coptic Cairo

I have to admit I knew nothing about this area before we visited. It is an ancient area of Cairo dating back to the 6th century BC. We notice that the area is heavily guarded. We see armed police as we enter, with spiked chains ready to stop any intruding vehicle. As we walk the main street we also see guards behind heavy artillery shields

Our first stop is the Fortress of Babylon built here by the Romans. The plaque outside is written in both Arabic and the Cryptic language.
At one time as many as twenty churches were built in this small one square mile area. Today only 5 remain.

Next we stop by the famed "Hanging Church" (Saint Virgin Mary’s Church) . It turns out to be just that; it literally hangs between two towers. Built in the 3rd century AD ,it is quite and amazing structure and the ceiling is built to represent Noah’s Arc. We stop to see the many relics of saints and martyr all whose fate too horrific to even write about. They died as they lived for their faith.
For the most part the church is quite rustic , which is understandable considering its age. The heavy doors are inlaid with ebony and ivory and the huge pillars are of marble. There are 13 pillars designed to represent the 12 apostles and Christ. The floors have escape hatches, which were used through the ages to save the lives of the priests and their followers during attacks.

Next we descend (filthy steps) to the original streets of the city to pay a visit to Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church. Dating back to the 6th century BC this church is built upon the Holy Crypt where Joseph Mary and Jesus are said to have taken refuge for three months during their flight into Egypt fleeing Herod. The Church itself is quite a simple structure and thankfully nothing like other religious sites we have seen, like Lordes in France which is wildly ornate and "built for the tourist dollar’. We aren’t permitted to take pictures of the crypt however, I’m not really sure why. Maybe it is to boost the postcard sales. Really there’s not much to photograph anyway as its just a sort of cellar.

Greek Chapel of St George
There is a lot of reconstruction still going on here ,so we took only a quick stop. Inside the majority of the church is strewn with rubble. The highlight is a chamber featuring a chain that was used to hang St George. The faithful take there turn kissing the chain and receiving the blessing.

Our guide encouraged us to take the short walk to the old graveyard. Here, behind the church we see a mixture of old and relatively new tombs .It’s a rough trek to get there through a disgusting entrance of trash and rubble to reach the run down site . A quick look was enough for us.

The Jewish Synagogue
After the fall of Jerusalem in around 70 AD, the area saw an influx of Jews, and it's here where Egypt's oldest synagogue, Ben Ezra is located. No pictures allowed here and the security protested when I took a pictures of the outside.

Leaving the narrow and ancient streets of Coptic Cairo behind we head for the Old Cairo Market called Khan el-Khalili Bazaar. This has been high on my list since we first arrived so I was filled with excitement and anticipation.
Built in the 14th century this market is still a vibrant and exciting place to shop. The tiny shops are filled with copper, silver, Egyptian robes, scarves, spices , souvenirs and more. Bargaining is both expected and necessary. Prices often start 3 or 4 times the going price. Its difficult to browse as the sellers start a hard sales pitch the minute you just glance at an item. With that aside we felt safe and welcome here. The venders though persistent were friendly and fun.
One thing to note here is to watch where you are going as it would be easy to get lost. The little streets seem to wind in and out without much pattern. We met our guide in an ancient coffee shop called al-Fishawi. This is Egypt's most famous, and most place where shoppers still gather to smoke the shisha ( water pipe) as they have for hundreds of years.
Our time here flew by and we could have used more. I was happy with my purchase of a lovely silver necklace with tiny stones and earring to match. I don’t know if I overpaid but I was happy with the $72.00 that I paid and it is stamped with the silver 925 numbers.

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