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Old Cairo Walking Tour (Self Guided), Cairo

Old Cairo is called so because it is the ancient part of Cairo, and predates what is now called Cairo. Some Egyptologists think that there was a settlement here as far back as the 6th century BC. The Romans constructed a tower here named Babylon. Later, it became a Christian stronghold, with as many as 20 churches erected within a surface of one square mile. Take this walking tour to find out more about some of the most famous museums in Old Cairo.
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Old Cairo Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Old Cairo Walking Tour
Guide Location: Egypt » Cairo (See other walking tours in Cairo)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Author: felicity
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Ben Ezra Synagogue
  • The Hanging Church
  • The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus
  • Babylon Fortress
  • The Greek Church of St. George
  • Old Coptic Cemetery of Cairo
  • St. Shenuti Church
  • Mosque of Amr Ibn el-As
Ben Ezra Synagogue

1) Ben Ezra Synagogue

The Ben Ezra Synagogue is the oldest Jewish place of worship in Cairo. The land was bought by Rabbi Ben Ezra of Jerusalem to build the synagogue and it was named after him.

Two legends exist about the location of the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Some believe that it was the place where baby Moses was found safe in the midst of bulrushes. The other legend says that it was here that the prophet Jeremiah regrouped the Jewish people after they were expelled from Jerusalem. In 1896, a collection of 100,000 documents relating to the history of the Jewish people in Egypt was found in the Geniza or store room. Most of the documents have been relocated in various museums in Europe and Britain.

The architecture of the Ben Ezra Synagogue has a basilica style. There are two floors, a lower floor for male worshippers and an upper floor for women. Steel bars divide the main hall into three parts. The central hall has the Bima or desk for Torah reading. Twelve columns support the roof and 6 marble steps lead to the wooden altar. The interiors are decorated in Turkish style floral and geometric patterns. Today, the synagogue has very few worshippers but has become a thriving tourist attraction in Cairo.
The Hanging Church

2) The Hanging Church (must see)

The Hanging Church gets its name from being located above an old Roman Gatehouse in Cairo. Its nave hangs over a passage. The real name of the Church is Sitt Mariam or St. Mary’s Church.

The Hanging Church is the best-known Coptic Church in Cairo. The Coptic church is one of the early Eastern Orthodox Churches which once had its seat in Alexandria. Today, the Hanging Church is the official residence of the Coptic Pope. It was built in the 7th century and it is believed that there were churches on the site from the 3rd or 4th centuries. It has been rebuilt several times in particular in the 10th century by the Patriarch Abraham.

The Hanging Church has a beautiful courtyard flanked by religious mosaics. The marble pulpit has thirteen pillars representing Jesus and the 12 apostles. It is famous for its icons and the oldest one is from the 8th century. The eastern end has three sanctuaries dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St. George and St. John the Baptist. The sanctuary screen dates back to the 12th or 13th centuries and is made of ebony inlaid with ivory. It has a row of seven large icons. The left screen has 17 icons and the right screen has 7 small icons on the top. The church is a thriving place of worship and important celebrations like the enthronement of patriarchs take place here.

Go through the door in the wall on the right to enter a half-round part of the church built directly over one of the Roman gate's defensive towers, and from which a window allows you to look down sideways at the gate itself (which is fairly impressive). You can also catch another outside glimpse of the gate and the church on top of it if you walk past the street entrance to the south-west corner of the compound.
The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus

3) The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus

The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus also called the Abu Serga is the oldest Coptic place of worship in Cairo. It is dedicated to two soldier saints from Syria. They were martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maximilian.

The location of The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus is where the Holy family is said to have rested while fleeing from the oppressive rule of King Herod to Egypt. It is said that they lived here while Joseph worked in the nearby fortress. The church dates back to the fifth century and the present building dates back to the 8th century. On the first of June a special mass is held annually to commemorate the arrival of the Holy Family.

The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus or Abu Serga is in the shape of a basilica. There is a narthex, a nave and two aisles. The central sanctuary has a 13th century wooden screen with ebony panels inlaid with ivory. The frieze and icons in the church date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. It has a 10 meter deep crypt that is often flooded when the levels of the River Nile rise. The church has an active congregation and is the second most important Coptic Church in the city next to the Hanging Church.
Babylon Fortress

4) Babylon Fortress

The Babylon Fortress is often called the birthplace of Cairo. It is the oldest part of the city and dates back to the Bronze Age.

The Babylon Fortress gets its name from Babylon in Mesopotamia. It is believed that the area was once ruled by the Mesopotamian King, Nebuchadnezzar. It was later the site where the Roman Emperor Trajan placed his legions to subjugate the people of Egypt. At the time it marked the boundary between Middle and Lower Egypt. Today it is part of Coptic Cairo where the Christian population of the city lives. When the Arabs invaded Egypt, the fortress defended the city for seven months before falling to the army led by General Amr Ibn Al As.

Today the Babylon Fortress has several Coptic structures built into its walls. The towers are 10 meters high and have a diameter of 31 meters. It has a pattern typical of Roman fortresses with five blocks of limestone and three blocks of brick. There are six Coptic churches, a convent and the Coptic Museum within the walls. It is also called the Qasr el Shamee or the Palace of Candles because candles illuminated the towers on the first of every month.
The Greek Church of St. George

5) The Greek Church of St. George

The Greek Church of St. George is a large round church located in the Babylon Fortress of Cairo. It is the seat of the Greek Patriarch of Alexandria.

The Greek Church of St. George was built in 684 by a wealthy scribe called Athanasius. The present structure was built in 1904. It is connected to the nearby monastery of St. George. It is believed that St. George was imprisoned and martyred near the church. It was a Coptic church until the 15th century when it became a Greek orthodox church.

A flight of steps takes visitors to The Greek Church of St. George. The façade has a relief of St. George dressed as a Roman soldier astride an Arabian horse and slaying a dragon carved into the brick wall. The 20th century church still retains the stained glass windows of previous churches and the Qaa el-Arsan wedding chamber that dates back to the 4th century. It has beautifully carved interiors and the dome has a beautiful green ceiling with the image of Christ in the middle. Most of the images depict St. George fighting for the preservation of Christianity. The nearby monastery is the venue of the largest Coptic Mulid or religious festival celebrated annually on the 23rd of April.
Old Coptic Cemetery of Cairo

6) Old Coptic Cemetery of Cairo (must see)

This beautiful and clean cemetery is one of the prettiest cemeteries in Egypt. The gravestones are gorgeous, decorated with statues of angels, saints, doves, crosses and the like. If you wish to be in the cemetery when a funeral is occurring, you can see the old Egyptian tradition of wailing at burials. These wailing women can be seen in pictures on the murals and bas-reliefs of ancient Egyptian tombs.
St. Shenuti Church

7) St. Shenuti Church

This church is devoted to St. Shenuti who is the most renowned of the Coptic saints. It was erected in the 7th Century, but has undergone many changes since. The church is 35m long, 15m wide and 15m high, and unusually the church floor is 2m below street level. The central iconostasis is wonderful red cedarwood inlaid with ivory and seven icons. There is a southern shrine devoted to Archangel Michael.
Mosque of Amr Ibn el-As

8) Mosque of Amr Ibn el-As

The Mosque of Amr Ibn el-As is the first Mosque in Egypt and the African continent. It was built by the Arab general who conquered Egypt on the site where he pitched his tent. At the time, it was at the center of the Capital of Egypt called Fustat.

The Mosque of Amr Ibn el-As was constructed first in 642 AD. The tomb of his son, 'Abd Allah ibn 'Amr ibn al-'As is located at one corner of the building. Successive rulers and governors of Egypt expanded and rebuilt the Mosque and very little of the original structure remains today. The architraves on the southern wall are the only remaining parts of the building constructed by General Amr Ibn el-As. In 1875 Muhammad Ali rebuilt the mosque and it was further expanded in the 20th century by Abbas Helmi II.

The Mosque of Amr Ibn el-As today, has an architectural style that incorporates Greek and Roman design. It has 150 marble columns and three minarets. It has an open courtyard surrounded by four Riwaqs or colonnades. The largest Riwaq is the Quibla Riwaq. The Mosque is an active place of worship and tourists are allowed to view the building when prayer is not in session.

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