Old Cairo is an eminently important place for both the history and the identity of modern-day Cairo. As its name suggests, Old Cairo demarks the foundations of some of the earliest cities, such as Fustat, that stood in the area we now term Cairo. As a consequence of all the history that has passed through the walls here, the area is a traveler’s dream, featuring such standout attractions as the Coptic Museum, the Fortress of Babylon, the Church and Monastery of St. George, and the ever-popular Hanging Church. Quite simply, this is a stunning and stunningly interesting part of the world, and anyone who’s able to visit will feel extremely privileged to do so.
Coptic Cairo is the area of Old Cairo that most travelers want to spend most of their time exploring. The Coptic Museum is a particular draw here, given its preeminent collection of Christian Egyptian artifacts, including a collection of Coptic art that’s simply unrivaled anywhere across the globe. Another breathtaking thing to do while in Coptic Cairo is visit the Babylon Fortress, which once marked the boundary between Lower and Middle Egypt. Today such a boundary has long since gone, but the fortress’ walls stand tall nonetheless, providing a captivating reminder of times past.
If the Fortress of Babylon is an interesting site to walk around and playfully explore, the Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church—also known under the (mercifully short) moniker Hanging Church—inspires a quieter, more reverential kind of visit. This splendid church in the heart of Coptic Cairo is built upon one of the gateways to the Babylon Fortress. Even though it dates back to the third century AD, the church’s giant structure has withstood the test of time much better than the fortress, as it still functions as a working church today.
From within, the Hanging Church is as intricately decorated as it is grand and imposing from the outside. Particularly popular among visitors here are the 110 icons that line the church’s walls. They add an artistic and beatific flavor to the geometric designs that otherwise so characterize the Hanging Church’s interior design, and are one of the many unique aspects of the historic structure.
Old Cairo is situated toward the southern part of the city; getting to and from it should you be staying in a Cairo hotel elsewhere is no problem, thanks in large part to the flocks of tourists who head here every day. You’ll probably find you’ll want to spend at least a couple of days exploring the Coptic Museum and the like, but should you only be in town for a short amount of time it’s possible to combine a visit here with a trip north to the great Pyramids of Giza. Admittedly, it doesn’t leave you much time to truly get to know the sites, but you will be able to take those all-important postcard-worthy snapshots to send to jealous friends and family back home.