Updated On: November 08, 2023 by Dina Essawy
Egypt has always been a place for tolerance and coexistence, as it has always embraced all different faiths throughout its history. The evidence that shows that Egypt is a place for tolerance is the presence of many places of worship for Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in different places around the country, but the interesting thing is that many of them are gathered in one place which is the Religious Complex.
The Religious Complex is located in Cairo, specifically in the area of Old Cairo near the ancient fortress of Babylon, and includes the Mosque of Amr Ibn Al-Aas, the Hanging Church, the Jewish Temple of Ibn Azra, and several other churches, including the Church and Cave of Mary Gerges, the Church of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Cave, the Holy Well, the Monastery of the Girls Sisters, and the Church of St. Barbara.
The complex’s great history goes back to the ancient Egyptians when it was called Ghary Aha which means the place where the fighting continues and it was next to the temple of the god Osir that no longer exists, and then a Roman fortress known as the Babylon Fort was built until the Islamic leader Amr Ibn Al-Aas entered Egypt and constructed the city of Fustat and his mosque, which is known as the Al-Ateeq Mosque.
The Religious Complex is crowded with religious tourism and is a great destination for tourists from all countries of the world as it includes the most important places of worship for the three monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
What is Inside the Religious Complex?
1. Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque:
It was built in the year 21 AH and it is the second mosque built in Egypt and the largest and oldest mosque in Africa and the fourth mosque built in Islam after the Quba Mosque and the Mosque of the Prophet Mohamed in Madinah and the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
The mosque walls were built with mud bricks. Its floor was spread with gravel, its roof was made of plaster and its columns were taken from the trunks of palm trees and then through years the materials of its construction were changed where you will see that its ceiling was raised and the palm tree trunks were replaced by marble columns and its walls were decorated. A beautiful thing to see in the Religious Complex in Cairo.
2. The Coptic Museum:
The Coptic Museum is located in Old Cairo inside the Babylon Fortress. It was built by the late Marcus Semeika Pasha in 1910. Semeika Pasha struggled for a long time until he was able to erect the current building of the museum and he was appointed as the first director of the museum. The museum was built to collect the necessary material to study the history of Christianity in Egypt.
The museum contains about 16,000 holdings and they were arranged according to their genres into twelve sections. When you enter the museum, you will see the old wing of the museum that includes a group of wooden furniture and inlaid doors and in the new wing, you will see different types, styles, and themes such as geometric designs, acanthus scrolls, and grape leaves, friezes decorated with rabbits, peacocks, birds, and rural activities, passing through the Hellenistic and Coptic heritage to Islamic art in Egypt. Learn more about history in the Religious Complex.
3. The Fortress of Babylon:
It is located in the Old Cairo area next to the Coptic Museum. It was built in the Roman era as one of the greatest forts witnessing the Roman civilization that was constructed in Egypt. It was built in the place where the city of Fustat was built and which is now the city of Cairo. The fort was also of great importance in the Islamic era during the conquest of Egypt by Amr Ibn Al-Aas and it had an important strategic location in the heart of Egypt.
The Babylon Fortress was built in the 6th century BC when King Nebuchadnezzar conquered and ruled Egypt, then after the Roman Empire occupied Egypt in the 1st century BC and specifically during the era of Caesar Augustus the Fortress of Babylon was used to protect the southern roads of the Nile Delta and the great city of Alexandria. Through the years, the fortress was used as the main base for the expansion of the empire, and the expansion of its influence in the area located below the Nile River.
There are many stories behind naming the Fortress of Babylon by that name, one of the stories is that Babylon was the name of a neighbouring capital. It is also known as the Palace of the Candles, due to the fort’s tower that was lit by candles at the beginning of each month. Learn about the incredible history and stories of Babylon in the Religious Complex.
4. The Hanging Church:
It is one of the most important attractions in Cairo and was built over the Roman fortress of Babylon at a height of 13 meters above the ground and that made it the highest building in the area and that’s why it was called the Hanging Church. The church is one of the oldest churches built in Egypt as it was built in the 5th century AD. The Hanging Church contains 120 icons spread on its walls and inside, it contains another church, which is the Church of St. Marks.
The church once was the seat of many patriarchs since the 11th century, where Patriarch Christozoulos was the first to make the Hanging Church the seat of the Pope of Alexandria. The church was renewed several times during the Islamic era, once during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, then the Fatimid caliph’s al-Aziz Billah, and in the era of Al Zaher le-Ezaz Din Allah. It was known that the place where the church is built was the shelter of the Holy Family as they escaped from Herod, the King of Palestine at that time. Inside the church, there are several images dating back to different times and historical periods and one of those images is the Christian Mona Lisa, an image in which Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and John the Baptist appear and it is known as the Mona Lisa because whoever sees it from any angle from notices that Mary’s eyes move along with him. An incredible sight in the Religious Complex.
5. Abi Sarjah Church:
This is another church located in the Religious Complex. It was known as the Church of the Cave and the two martyrs Sergius and Wachs, two soldiers in the Roman army who were persecuted and killed in order to defend their Christian faith. It is said that the reason behind building the church was that there was a cave in which Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and Christ hid during their flight to Egypt for fear that Herod, the ruler of Palestine, would pursue them. In the cave, there were some personal tools found that they might have used during their stay.
The cave contains a small underground church, 6 meters long, 5 meters wide, and 2.5 meters high, and it has a domed roof, a nave, and two northern and southern wings, and the wings are separated by nine columns, and this cave is located under the altar of the church. On the first of June, the Sarjah church celebrates commemorating the visit of the Holy Family to Egypt with the holding of a mass in the church in this cave.
In June 1967, a strange occurrence took place in this church. It is said that blood poured out of one of the marble pillars in the church, and it continued to descend profusely amidst the astonishment of the audience until Pope Kyrollos VI came and put his finger on the place where the blood was flowing, and it stopped at once. This strange incident was explained by grief over the setback that Egypt suffered in Sinai and the killing of thousands of Egyptian soldiers at the time.
6. St. Margirus’s Monastery:
The monastery is one of the most important Christian shrines in the Religious Complex. It is named after the great martyr Margirus, who is considered one of the most prominent and important saints in Christian history. Saint Margirus was one of the brave soldiers in the Roman army and converted to Christianity just as the Roman Emperor was persecuting Christians. When Saint Margirus announced his rejection of this persecution, he was thrown into prison, and he was subjected to a long series of physical temptations in order to convert from his faith, but when he remained steadfast, various types of abuse and torture were applied against him, until he was executed in the end.
When you enter the monetary, you will see icons and pictures of Margirus, the famous image there is of him on his horse, holding a spear in his hand, and planting its tip in the mouth of a mighty dragon. There were stories told about this picture, that the people of Beirut were afraid of the dragon that lived next to them and prevented them from reaching the water source, and they were accustomed to presenting a sheep to it on a daily basis to allow them to pass, but when their sheep ran out, they used to sacrifice a young girl instead, and when Margirus came and saw that tragedy, he killed the dragon and saved the chosen girl who was to be sacrificed. This story was explained religiously where the dragon is seen as the devil, the beautiful girl is seen as the church, and the spear refers to the cross on which Christ was crucified. Another amazing space in the Religious Complex.
7. Ben Ezra Jewish Temple:
It is one of the oldest Jewish Temples in Cairo, where it is believed that the basket in which prophet Moses was placed when he was a baby is there and it is also said that it is where Moses stood praying to God when the plague reached Egypt. When you enter the temple, you will see the inscriptions engraved on a marble composition in the middle of the temple and that’s why the temple is an important attraction for a large number of tourists, especially Jewish tourists.
The temple consists of two floors, the first is used for male worshipers and the second is for ladies’ prayer. It is a basilica-style temple consisting of two rows of marble columns and is divided into three sections, the largest of which is the middle nave and in the middle is the preaching platform with the seats of the worshipers around it.
For a while, the temple was transformed into a church but it was sold back to the Jewish people due to financial hardship that the church went through, and the temple was named Ibn Ezra after Abraham bin Ezra, the head of the Jewish community at the time.
8. Church of Saint Barbara:
The Church of Saint Barbara was founded in the 5th century AD and is dedicated to Saint Barbara, who was a beautiful young maiden said to have been born in the early 3rd century AD who was locked away by her intolerant father. The design of the Church of St. Barbara is in the original Orthodox style, and it has a nave and two wings separated from the courtyard by ten columns on each side, then two on the western side in front of the entrance, and above these marble columns are crowns as in other churches.
The carvings of the crowns are in the form of palm fronds, and their surfaces were decorated with coloured drawings with figures of the apostles and prophets, symbolizing the teachings on which the Church of Christ is based, and these columns are connected to a continuous wooden frieze. In the nave of the church there are laks prepared for washing the legs as usual, and to the north of the nave is the marble pulpit, which is in the style of the pulpit of the church of Abi Sarjah, renewed in coloured marble slides, and on its main panel are reliefs representing crosses inside decorative garlands with traces of colours and is based on ten Small marble columns.
Many people from around the world visit the Religious Complex to explore the variety of different religions that coexisted in Egypt at different times in history and to also see the locations where many important historical and religious events took place.
We recommend visiting the location early to avoid the large crowds and don’t take your own car as it may be hard to find your own parking spot, so take an Uber or the Metro, instead, since they are more convenient.
Overall, you are sure to have an enjoyable experience while enjoying all of these amazing landmarks grouped in one place. So, go from one to another at your own pace and enjoy the experience to the fullest. Have the best time at the Religious Complex in Cairo.