I took a taxi from Al-Azhar Mosque to Coptic Cairo, which is older than Islamic Cairo by about seven centuries. It is built around (and sometimes on top of) Roman structures. The famous Hanging Church, the Church of Saint Mary, was my prime destination. It hangs over two Roman towers and, though certainly not the oldest, is arguably the most beautiful of the churches in Cairo.
The cab driver on the way there was playing some interesting electronic Arabic music. Rather, his radio was playing. The driver’s hands were steering the vehicle. I got out of the cab near a bookstore. Most newer signs were in English and Arabic. Older inscriptions were in French or Greek. I wandered for a while, unsure of the way to the Church of St. Mary. There were lots of places that caught my lens.
Apparently, there are lots of places around Egypt where the guest register was signed “JMJ” 😉
Saint George, Άγιος Γεώργιος in Greek, is the most iconic of the Greek saints. Famous throughout the Christian world for slaying a dragon, he himself was executed by Diocletian for refusing to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods. This was not a choice taken lightly by the Emperor, since Georgios was a valuable tribune and a soldier of great stature. Diocletian tempted Georgios with money and land. Eventually, the proud, some might say “headstrong” capital of Georgios was separated from his torso on April 23, A.D. 303.
St. George was feared by dragons and popular with the ladies, as the above photo proves.
When I arrived at the hanging Church, Al-Muallaqa (“the suspended”) in Arabic, it was closing and someone was running an echoing vacuum. The door was open so I entered and did a little video, from which the photo below has been snipped. Soon a young man approached and asked whether I wanted to learn about this Church. He spent quite a while with me even though the lesson was free. Barsoum had an intimate knowledge of the place’s history. He explained the symbolism of the aisles, nave and columns and showed me the covered opening in the floor where the faithful could escape when under attack. I was shown one of the Roman towers over which the Church is suspended.
The boat-shaped roof of the church is supported by eight pillars, representing Noah and his family. The elephants on the Ark are represented by a lot of ivory present in the Church 😉
This gorgeous pulpit is supported by 15 marble pillars, capable of holding up the weightiest of sermons. The lone one on the right represents Jesus. The next 12 are the apostles. Judas’ is black. Thomas’ is grey. Barsoum quizzed me on these two, and I didn’t let him down. Thomas was an educated guess. The last two represent the evangelists Mark and Luke.
Yes, I did successfully take the Cairo Subway twice, despite being discouraged from doing so by the concierge at the Hotel Cairo Marriott. I took it first from Coptic Cairo to Tahrir Square, now made famous by the so-called Arab Spring. I also survived walking from the central statue of Omar Makram to a popular street where I ate alone at the Falfela Restaurant. Anita had opted for a Nile cruise and dinner show with the rest of the tour group.
Obviously, Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square, named following the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, is past the point of “flirting” with capitalism.
Following a tasty supper at the Falfela I took the subway again “home” to Gezira Island and walked for about 15 minutes, past the Cairo Tower and a flashy casino in the posh Zamalek area, to our Cairo Marriott Hotel. Being in a late rush hour, the platform where I stood waiting for the train was very crowded on this later trip. I walked a little way back towards a much less crowded part of the platform. Soon the penny dropped that only women were waiting there, so I went “back forward.” When we males boarded we were squished like sardines, and I realized then that modesty precluded women from riding in such intimate contact with men. There was hardly room for my large camera bag. Being my last night in Egypt, I had by then learned that foreigners were generally very safe in downtown Cairo, even when crushed in a subway car.
Safer, no doubt, than Egyptians, because of the long-standing, and somewhat undeserved, Egyptian deference to foreigners.
Anita captured the two photos below of a Whirling Dervish on her dinner cruise. A dervish belongs to the mystical, and very ascetic, Sufi sect of Islam. Sufism arose early in Islam as a conservative reaction to the materialism of the Umayyad Caliphate (661 -750 A.D.) The Sufi are mystics and pacifists. The Sufi poet, Rumi, made Westerners aware of this philosophy. As the following photos show, they are pretty colourful dancers:
I was very pleased to have seen Al-Azhar Mosque (previous post), Coptic Cairo and to have ridden the Cairo subway.
The next day was our daylight visit to Giza and its surrounding monuments: the Great Pyramids, Sphinx, Saqqara, and Dashur.
More on that later.