Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8

On the morning of our final day, we visited Old Cairo before boarding the afternoon flight back home. The breakfast buffet included Om Ali, a popular breakfast dish in Egypt made from flour, almonds, and other nuts. It is similar to oats but very sweet and can be eaten hot or cold. The most popular and common dish in Egypt is Kushari, regarded by many as the national dish. It is traditionally a vegetarian dish – rice, lentils, chickpeas, and macaroni topped with garlic, vinegar, and salsa – although sometimes shawarma meat is added.

Old Cairo is located east of central Cairo and encompasses Coptic Cairo with its many old churches and historical ruins of other cities before Cairo. The major sites of Coptic Cairo include the Babylon Fortress, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, and the Greek Church of St. George. We first stopped by the Saints Sergius and Bacchus church and the Holy Crypt, aka Abu Serga. Dating back to the 4th century AD, it is among the oldest Coptic churches in Egypt. The church is believed to have been constructed at the site where the Holy Family rested at the end of their journey into Egypt and the Holy Crypt is believed to be at the exact location where Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus rested. It is 10m deep and is subject to flooding by the Nile. The church took its name from soldier-saints martyred during the 4th century in Syria. It was first built in the 4th century but has since been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The building is still considered a model of the early Coptic churches. The southern wall features many ancient icons and the central hall is divided into three naves by two rows of pilasters.

The Hanging Church (officially Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church) is located above a gatehouse of a Babylon Fortress – its nave is suspended over the Roman Fortress columns thus accounting for the name. It is also among the oldest churches in Egypt, the first church at the site dating back to 3rd century AD. As the surface of the church location has risen by around 6m since the Roman times, the Roman Towers are mostly buried below ground making it difficult to visualize the hanging design of the church. However, there are several locations within the church that allow for glancing below and then it is obvious the structure is held on Roman Pillars. The twenty nine steps leading to the entrance of the church earned it the moniker ‘Staircase Church’. The entrance features a small sketch depicting the plight of the Holy Family into Egypt – the event is described in the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew – Joseph, his wife Mary, and infant son Jesus fled to Egypt after they learned that King Herod intended to kill the infants in the area. The church has 110 icons with the earliest from the 8th century. The ebony iconostases are inlaid with ivory with icons of the Virgin Mary and the Apostles surmounting it. Seven larger icons adore the top altar screen with Christ seated on a throne at the center – icons of Virgin Mary, Archangel Gabriel, and Saint Peter on one side and Saint John the Baptist, Archangel Michael and Saint Paul on the other. After these visits, we parted ways with our Egyptian guide and headed to the airport.

Many who visit Holy-land describe it as a life-changing experience and we join that chorus in a heartbeat. The organization and planning that went into making the whole tour go like clockwork impressed us immensely. In spite of the fast pace of the program, we nicked only the major landmarks. One could easily spend a couple of months in Holy-land, if you have the interest, time, and money.

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