Old Cairo: Coptic Hanging Churches and the Oldest Mosque in Africa

Old Cairo is where most major religions of the country and continent meet.  The AmrIbn el-Aas Mosque and the Hanging Church reside in this part of town and have been neighbors for almost for almost 1400 years.  They are both amazing structures to view and can’t be missed on a trip to Cairo.

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The Amr Ibn el-Aas Mosque is not only the oldest mosque in Egypt but Africa as well.  It was first constructed 642 AD by orders of the Arab commander Amr Ibn el-Aasconquered Egypt making it a Muslim state.  It is said that a white dove flew down and began to nest on his tent east of the Nile.  It was a sign for God and a mosque built where his tent had once stood.  A simple building was first made and throughout the centuries various Egyptian leaders took it upon themselves to demolish, rebuild and decorate it to suit their needs.   The last changes were made during the Ottoman rule in 1797 AD.  So basically the building went from being a simple structure of 653 sq. meters to an ornate structure which included arched windows, gilded mosaics, minarets, marble works and gold and silver accents with the area totaling 13,556 sq. meters.  Basically, on two of it’s 150 columns are identical.

The Hanging Church was built much earlier then the Mosque up the road.  It is believed to have been originally constructed in the 4th Century AD and then rebuilt to what it is today in the 11th Century AD.  It is the oldest working Coptic Churches in the country.  This is why it’s named the Hanging Church because it was built on top of the southern gate tower of the Roman Babylon Fortress. It was built into the Fortress itself. The church was also nicknamed the Staircase Church by earlier travelers because there are 29 steps to climb before entering.

The Nile River was just west of the church and the fortress and wasn’t simply in the middle of no where like it seems today. The path of the Nile has since moved west.  The fortress used to lie in a very strategic area. This part of the Nile was then an important link to the Red Sea and also made it a successful commercial port.  This came in handy when a quick invasions were necessary and supplies were needed.

Making a trip out to Old Cairo is a nice way to test out the Cairo’s Metro System which is limited but efficient.  It’s the only metro system in all of Africa.  A fare to anywhere on the system one Egyptian Pound which equals 17 cents here in the US.  There are women only cars so travels should take the time to figure out where they are before getting on.  Don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

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