Today we visited Old Cairo, also known as Coptic Cairo. This is the area of town where the old capital of Egypt, Fustat, flourished until 1169 A.D. Travel books told us that this would be a lovely place to visit, filled with 7th-century churches and winding cobblestone paths waiting to be explored.
We arrived with few plans on where to go and how to get there. I brought one of my guide books with me, and we set off in one direction hoping to find some of the churches it featured. Within minutes we found the Church of Saint George.
This church was originally built in the 7th century A.D., but was reconstructed after a fire in the 19th century. It’s said to be built on the foundations of where Saint George was imprisoned. I’m not sure whether this is true or not, but I do know that it is built on the foundations of a Roman fortress built by Roman Emperor Trajan. The church was raised up, and there were massive stairs leading up to the entrance of the church. Looking over the edges as I was walking up, I saw the ruins of the ancient fortress!
When we went inside the church, a priest was giving a homily in Greek as St. George is a Greek Orthodox Church. We quietly stood near the entrance observing and looking up into the high vaulted wooden ceilings complete with a large iron chandelier.
We continued roaming and we came upon a fenced-in stone building with its foundations far below the street’s surface. Not understanding what it was but knowing that important things are always fenced in, we moved closer to see. While there was no sign or personnel to confirm this, we determined that it was more of Trajan’s fortress.
Some young Egyptian boys came up to us, fascinated and wanting to know where we were from and why we were there, not even breathing or pausing between questions to learn our answers. Nonetheless, they made it into our pictures.
We came upon another church with writing on the outside in Arabic. Having no idea what it said, we entered and explored the church. It was beautiful, with white marble columns, tapestries and ornately carved wooden banisters, railings and such. Exiting the church we saw the sign that said it was the “Hanging Church,” a very famous church we had been looking for! This church is so named because it is built on top of the old water gate over the Roman fort of Babylon (Trajan’s fortress).
We wandered some more, and once we were about two blocks away we were in an average Egyptian neighborhood. It was fascinating to amble along these cobblestone streets. We walked past people carrying out their normal Friday activities: slaughtering a rooster over an upturned fruit crate and buying oranges from a stand. A donkey was chained to its cart, looking forlorn next to a pile of broken amusement park rides. Needless to say we were the only foreigners wandering around. However, I didn’t feel that out of place as most of the neighbors continued to carry out their daily tasks without concern.