The Old Cairo: the Coptic quarter

art and culture - exploration
The Old Cairo: the Coptic quarter

Before coming under Arab rule in 641, Egypt was Christian. The Coptic quarter bears the traces of a civilisation unique in the world.

The Copts are the Egyptian Christians; the word copt means “Egyptian” in ancient Greek. Saint Mark introduced the Christian religion in 45 AD. In Cairo, the Coptic quarter is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. What is rare for Cairo is the quiet: you can amble about through the alleys on foot away from the busy streets nearby. Old Cairo is known and frequented by tourists for its numerous churches within a very small perimeter. If you are visiting at the time, go there on Palm Sunday and track the procession by the incense and boxwood perfumes it fills the air with. Start with the churches of St. Sergius and St. Barbara, which contain beautiful icons.

Then visit the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Originally, it was a church and, in contrast to its simple exterior, its interior is sumptuous. Then, go to the suspended church of Sainte-Marie. You can get there by going down a corridor, followed by a staircase. It is named so for the palm trees that have supported it like stilts since its construction in the 4th century.

Besides the fact that the Holy Family is reputed to have stayed in this location, it is known for its icon of the Virgin and Child, called the Egyptian Mona Lisa, as her gaze seems to follow you. And take the time to visit the Coptic Museum located just next door. It contains various wonders, and traces the history of this oft-persecuted community that is unique in the world.