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Published: October 23rd 2019
I wasn't as enthusiastic about our visit to Coptic Cairo as other portions of our trip. Let's face it, I'm an ancient Egypt fanatic, but I'm not as knowledgeable about more "modern" times there, and I hold a huge grudge against early Christians and their depredations against those incredible ancient monuments.
However, there are some very meaningful locations that are worth a visit. Coptic Cairo was the stronghold of Christianity in Egypt until the Islamic era and encompasses many Coptic churches and historical sites, and the drive there crosses many interesting parts of the city.
Our first stop, walking past the Greek Church of St. George and the Babylon Fortress ruins was the Hanging Church, so called because it was built above a gatehouse of the Babylon Fortress. The land surface has risen since the Roman period so the Roman tower is mostly buried below ground, reducing the impact of the church's elevated position. The church of Mother of God Saint Mary is one of the oldest churches in Cairo, although there have been recent renovations. The 19th century façade is seen beyond a narrow courtyard with modern biblical mosaics art. Up the steps and through the entrance there
is another small courtyard and the eleventh-century porch.
Inside, the church is beautiful and it contains over 100 icons, the oldest of which dates back to the 8th century.
Our second stop was at Abu Serga, The Church of Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus in The Cave. This church is traditionally believed to have been built on the spot where the Holy Family rested on their journey into Egypt.
This church also has been heavily rebuilt and restored during the centuries, the first church was built in the 4th century. The most interesting feature is the crypt where the Holy Family is said to have rested. It's 10 meters deep.
Our third stop that morning was the Ben Ezra Synagogue, conspicuously located amongst all the Christian churches. According to legend, it is located on the site where baby Moses was found. It is also the Synagogue where the Geniza store room was found containing a treasure of Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Arabic manuscript.
Although the Ben Ezra as an institution is ancient, the buildings have been burnt, rebuilt, and restored several times in its history. The current building dates to the 1890s.
Next on the schedule
The ancient aqueduct
was Ibn Tulun Mosque. It is the oldest mosque in the city surviving in its original form, and is the largest mosque in Cairo in terms of land area.
Although we didn't have to cover our heads or alter our clothing, we did have to cover our shoes so that no dirt from the street would enter the mosque.
By the time we got there it was close to one of the five daily times for a call to prayer, so it was a bonus to be in the mosque at the time. The call to Adhan by the muezzin, which we became familiar with while we were in Egypt, is melodious and pleasant to listen to.
Our last stop, and the one I was originally least looking forward to, turn out to be an unexpected treat. The Gayer-Anderson Museum consists of the only two surviving structures allowed to remain against the outside walls of the mosque due to being examples of the best preserved, remarkable 17th century Muslim architecture left in Cairo. The two houses were built separately in 1632 and 1540, and they were joined at some point by a bridge at the third floor
level. They now contain a collection of art, furnishings, and carpets collected by Major Gayer-Anderson and donated by him to the Egyptian government.
Walking through the labyrinth like interior was a delight.
This was the end of what turned out to be a delightful sightseeing tour. Afterwards, we had a lunch stop at one of the country club looking places around Cairo, and then rushed to the airport for our double security check and long wait for our flight to Aswan.
One moment of uncertainty came when driving to the hotel from the airport in Aswan. We had to cross a heavily guarded check point to get from the west to the east bank of the Nile. The High Dam is in the area, and it's heavily guarded.
However, Aswan had many delightful surprises, not the least of which was our hotel, the Movenpick Resort in Elephantine Island. The ferry to the resort provided us with views of the Nile at its most beautiful, and the view of the tomb cliffs across the Nile from our balcony was breathtaking.
The Movenpick, at the end of the island, is in a position to provide views of
The Greek Church of St. George
both the east and west banks of the Nile and its restaurants all feature open terraces to take advantage of those views.
We spent some time at the terrace of the lobby bar that night unwinding with some Egyptian wine and appetizers. Amusingly, we could not help but being distracted from our idyllic surroundings by the large TV screen showing music videos that made even MTV's 80s videos look less cheesy.
We foolishly ordered two appetizers, and we had to leave a good portion untouched. The food portions everywhere we went were extra large as we found out that night. Just one of the two appetizers we ordered would have been enough, specially since they were also served with a large basket of assorted breads. The fried octopus was amazing! It was chunks, not rounds. The tartar sauce was average, but the sweet sauce also served with it was delicious! The second appetizer, the Arabic Mezze, was six different small dishes, and was also very good.
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