Old Cairo and Coptic Cairo
Around 525 BCE a fortress called Babylon was constructed here at the mouth of the canal, which marked the boundary between Upper and Lower Egypt. Later the Romans built a much larger fortress on the same site, which now serves as the foundation upon which many of the sites present there today were built. The meters thick walls of the Roman fort, striped with red and white brick, are still visible today as you exit the Mar Girgis metro stop or walk down Mar Girgis Street into Coptic Cairo. It was this fort that the invading Muslim army of Amr Ibn Al-Aas besieged in the first battle of the Muslim conquest of Egypt.
There are also six churches here that date back to the early Christian Era. The Hanging Church, or the Church of the Virgin Mary, was built in the 9th century to ‘hang’ high upon the walls of Babylon. The effect of this ‘hanging’ is now diminished significantly as ground levels have raised around the walls. Deeper into Coptic Cairo there are several other older churches, including the Church of St. Sergius, which dates from the 5th century and was supposedly built upon the site of a crypt where the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) to shelter during there time in Egypt. Even further back is Ben Ezra Synagogue. This is the oldest synagogue in Cairo, founded in the 9th century on what is claimed to be either the site of the Temple of Jeremiah or the site where the pharaoh’s daughter found Moses among the reeds.
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