The Coptic Quarter extends south of the modern part of the city and is undoubtedly a charming neighborhood of the Egyptian capital. It is no coincidence that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1079.
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The first mosque, church and synagogue in Africa are located in a space of less than 500 meters.

Introduction

The settlement of the area around Cairo did not begin near the present city center. The original seed of what has become the modern city now lies on the southern edges of the city, known as Old Cairo. More than two thousand years ago this was the beginning of an ancient canal between the Nile River and the Red Sea, it was in this strategic location that the first settlements in the area grew.

The course of the river has changed, now extending several hundred meters to the west, but this location is still marked by several significant historical sites, many of which date back to the Greco-Roman period, when Egypt became a Christian nation. Archaeological evidence suggests that settlement began before the 6th century BC.

Around 525 BC, a fortress, called Babylon, was built at the mouth of the canal, marking the boundary between Upper and Lower Egypt. Later, the Romans built a much larger fortress on the same site, which now serves as the foundation on which many of the buildings present today have been built.

The meters thick red and white brick walls of the Roman fortress are still visible today, it can be seen when exiting the Mar Girgis metro stop or walking down Mar Girgis Street in Coptic Cairo. It was this fortress that besieged the invading Muslim army of Amr Ibn Al-Aas in the first battle of the Muslim conquest of Egypt.

Today Old Cairo is filled with buildings dating from Egypt’s Christian era and the beginning of the presence of Islam. Two of the earliest monuments of Islamic Egypt are here: the Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque, the first mosque built on the African continent, and the Nilometer which was built on the island of Rhoda shortly after the Muslim conquest of Egypt.

Coptic Cairo is a unique area with Old Cairo having a concentration of Christian churches and other buildings dating from the centuries between the decline of the Pharaonic religion and the arrival of Islam, when Egypt had a Christian majority. Coptic Cairo is largely built around the fortress of Babylon on the remains of its walls.

What to see in the Coptic Quarter

  • The Coptic Museum is located in this area of the city, it houses the largest collection of Coptic Christian works of art and liturgical objects in the world. Founded in 1910, the museum records Coptic history from the arrival of Christianity in Egypt to the Ottoman era, displaying a mixture of artworks influenced by Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman traditions.
  • The Hanging Church, or the Church of the Virgin Mary, was built in the 9th century, situated above the walls of Babylon. The effect of this suspension has been significantly reduced as ground levels have risen around the walls.
  • The Church of Saints Sergius and BacchusThe Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, which dates back to the 5th century and was supposedly built over a crypt where the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) took refuge during the flight to Egypt.
  • The Ben Ezra SynagogueLess than 50 meters from the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus is the oldest synagogue in Cairo, founded in the ninth century, where it is said that the Temple of Jeremiah was located, the place where the daughter of Pharaoh found Moses among the reeds.

How to get to the Coptic Quarter

The Coptic Quarter district is located south of the city, on the eastern bank of the Nile River. To go by metro, the stop is Mar Girgis, and it is the most comfortable, fast and economical way if you are going to visit on your own. But if you stay a few days in Cairo, you will probably go several times to this area because there are key monuments and you may go with an agency on a guided tour that usually include transfers to the hotel.

It is also located 3 Km from bazaar Jan el-Jalili, the Al-Muizz Street, or the Al Rifa’i Mosque and the Sultan Hassan Mosque, both of which are usually visited together, most of the time as part of a tour that includes other points of interest, such as the Saladin Citadel, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, and the Alabaster Mosque.

Visiting hours and prices

The best time to get lost in the Coptic Quarter is in the morning, if you are just going for a stroll in the area. The opening hours of the historical sites and monuments are from 9:00 to 17:00, and the price is free for the visit, except for the Coptic Museum, for which you will have to pay 160 EGP per ticket.

Photos of the Coptic Quarter in Cairo

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