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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Exploring Cairo: Three religions side-by-side in the old city of Fustat

Lamia Hassan , Monday 3 Oct 2016
The Religions Complex (Lamiaa Hassan)
God is Love (Lamia Hassan)
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If you are driving to Salah Salem or Downtown Cairo from Maadi, you have definitely come across or passed through the steel bridge that you can take from the square at the end of the Maadi corniche.

To many people, it's just an area that connects them to their destination. But, in reality, it is considered an important historical site. Beyond the main roads lie the old city of Fustat with all its buildings and historical significance.

Put on your comfortable shoes on and get ready to embark on a trip beyond the gates of the old city of Fustat, and specifically to Mogamaa Al-Adyan (or The Complex of Religions).

While the area is very close to Maadi, you can also get there from Salah Salem, Maadi or Manial El-Roda. Also, if you are looking for an easy trip, you can take the metro to Mar Girgis Station and it will take you right inside the heart of the complex.

The Religions Complex
The Religions Complex (Lamiaa Hassan)

The significance of the place lies in the fact that it is home to the three monotheistic religions and some of the oldest religious buildings in Egypt, with Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque representing Islam, the Hanging Church representing Christianity and Ben Ezra Synagogue representing Judaism.

While the destination can be reached from different directions, there's one main gate to the complex.

The Religions Complex
The outside of St. George Church at the Religions Complex (Lamia Hassan)

Right before you reach the main gate, Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque comes on your left. The original mosque was built in 641 AD by General Amr Ibn Al-Aas, the commander of the Muslim army that conquered Egypt, and was the oldest mosque built in Africa, although it has been rebuilt over time.

Amr Bin As Mosque
A walk through the courtyard of Amr Ibn Al-A'as Mosque (Lamia Hassan)

Leaving the gates of the mosque behind, you go through a security checkpoint that leads to the rest of the complex.

As you walk, old cemeteries and closed doors of old buildings come on your left and souvenir and antique shops come on your right.

Amr Ibn El-Ass Mosque
A man reads Quran inside Amr Ibn Al-A'as Mosque in Fustat (Lamia Hassan)

You know it’s time for your first stop when you reach remarkable steps that take you below the main street. And, this is where you can start your journey inside the first group of the complex's seven churches.

There you can find historical churches like those of Abu Serga and of St. Barbara.

The Religions Complex
The arches and columns of Amr Ibn Al-A'as Mosque (Lamia Hassan)

There’s also a bookshop that has some very interesting maps of Cairo.

The Religions Complex
A young woman prays inside one of the Seven Churches in Fustat (Lamia Hassan)

Passing through that corridor, at the end you can find a route on your left that takes you to more churches and one on the right that takes you to Ben Ezra. Crossing through the gates of the synagogue, you can find the Star of David on the main door and on the windows on the outside of the building and a sign that reads “Property of the Jewish Community in Cairo.”

The Religions Complex
Inside one the Seven Churches located in the Religions Complex (Lamia Hassan)

The synagogue is one of the last surviving remnants of the Jewish community that once lived in Egypt and is the only one that is open to the public.

The Religions Complex
Inside the gates of Ben Ezra Synagogue (Lamia Hassan)

Ben Ezra has a remarkable presence of arabesque ornamentation inside the synagogue. Just looking inside the building, you can tell that there is an upper floor that was once used during ceremonies that were held there, but is now locked. While the entrance to the synagogue is very easy, there are signs everywhere inside that photos are not allowed.

The Religions Complex
Property of the Jewish Community in Cairo (Lamia Hassan)

Following a short tour in the area, you can head back to the steps to resume the trip. Your next stop is St. George Church, which is right across from the metro station.

The Religions Complex
Inside Ben Ezra, the only synagogue in Cairo that has its doors still open to the public (Lamia Hassan)

When you enter there, you mustn’t miss the beautiful painting on the ceiling of the church and the colourful windows inside the main hall.

The Religions Complex
The beautifully painted ceiling of St. George Church in the Religions Complex in Fustat (Lamia Hassan)

St George church
A man rests for a moment inside St. George Church (Lamia Hassan)

From there, you can find the Coptic Museum to your left. First inaugurated in 1910, the museum holds ancient artefacts, art and sculptures from Egypt’s Christian history.

The Religions Complex
Inside St. George Church (Lamia Hassan)

While standing outside the museum, you can see the remnants of the Roman fortress of Babylon.

The Religions Complex
Full view of the ceiling of St. George Church in Fustat (Lamia Hassan)

Walking from there, the Hanging Church comes on your left.

The Religions Complex
Prayers and hopes inside the Hanging Chuch (Lamia Hassan)

Before you step inside the building, you can go around the church and see how the church was built on top of the Roman fortress.

The Religions Complex
Details of one of the main doors inside the complex of the Hanging Church (Lamia Hassan)

While there's more to Fustat that these seven churches, the mosque and synagogue, these are the most remarkable landmarks of the area.

The Religions Complex
Coptic writings inside the Hanging Church (Lamia Hassan)

If you are looking to go there and avoid the crowd, you might want to go during the week or preferably on a Saturday not a Friday.

The Religions Complex
A look inside the main hall at the Hanging Church (Lamia Hassan)

 

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