Coptic Cairo


The Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo - 9th C. A.D.
The Hanging Church in Coptic Cairo – 9th Cent. A.D.

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.

Ancient Convent of St. George, the French sign told me
Ancient Convent of St. George, the French sign told me
Roman towers not buried by time
Roman towers not buried by time but, judging by the Islamic looking window arches, maybe not so Roman…
St. George's Church Tower
St. George’s Church Tower
Crypt of the Holy Family? Lots of imaginative wishful thinking went into this idea
Crypt of the Holy Family? Lots of imaginative wishful thinking went into this idea

Apparently, there are lots of places around Egypt where the guest register was signed “JMJ” 😉

A wet stone street with just the right colour accents made me like this one
A wet stone street with just the right colour accents made me like this
Wrought iron St. George slaying a dragon decorates this church
Wrought iron St. George slaying a dragon decorates this church

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.

Nunnery Of St. George
Nunnery Of St. George

St. George was feared by dragons and popular with the ladies, as the above photo proves.

Books and pictures on sale near the Hanging Church
Books and pictures on sale near the Hanging Church
Mary and Joseph mosaic in walkway to the Hanging Church
Mary and Joseph mosaic in the 29 step walkway up to the Hanging Church probably commemorates the flight into Egypt.

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 ceiling of the Hanging Church is an inverted hull, symbolizing the Ark
The ceiling sections of the Hanging Church resemble an  inverted hull, symbolizing the Ark

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 😉

The beautiful pulpit, supported by 15 columns
The beautiful pulpit, supported by 15 columns
Fifteen pillars support the pulpit
Fifteen pillars support the pulpit

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.

Iconic pictures adorn this high wall
Iconic pictures adorn this high wall
Ebony and ivory are plentiful in this place
Ebony and ivory are plentiful in this place
Confessional screen? Possibly. Ebony and Ivory - for sure.
Confessional screen? Possibly. Ebony and Ivory – for sure.
A window in the Church of St. Mary, Al-Muallaqa, The Hanging Church
A window in the Church of St. Mary aka Al-Muallaqa, The Hanging Church
Cairo Subway Train arrives at Mar Girgis
Cairo Subway Train arrives at Mar Girgis station
Women at Mar Girgis Subway Platform
Women at Mar Girgis Subway Platform

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.

Statue of the hero, Omar Makram, in the centre of Tahrir Square
Statue of the hero, Omar Makram, in the centre of Tahrir Square
Crossing towards these buildings was perhaps the scariest thing I did while in Egypt
Crossing towards these buildings was perhaps the scariest thing I did while in Egypt

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.

The Cairo Tower in Zamalek, near our hotel Cairo Marriott
The Cairo Tower in Zamalek, near our hotel Cairo Marriott

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:

Colourful Dervish prepares to whirl...
Colourful Dervish prepares to whirl…
Dervish whirling
Dervish whirling

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.

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Author: mytiturk

Travelbug Minstrel: Strum for my supper, croon for my cuppa Search for a sign, write for my whine

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