Coptic Cairo

Walking through Old Cairo, and specifically Coptic Cairo off of Sharia Mar Girgis , you walk through the various stages of the city’s history. Cairo: The Family Guide describes it as providing “a visual history of Cairo’s growth and evolution.” An important key to this evolution is religion, and the ways it manifest itself on the city, and Egypt as a whole. Walls here date back to 100 CE when the Roman Emperor Trajan built a fort known as the Babylon of Egypt.  A five block walk from the metro passes spaces sacred to Christianity, Islam and Judaism (in historical order)– including the crypt where The Holy Family supposedly hid from Roman soldiers on their flight from Herod, the Ben Ezra Synagogue and eventually the Amr ibn al As mosque.  Along the way, you pass The Hanging Church, the round Church of St George,  and churches of Sts. Barbara and Sergius as well as the Coptic Museum

Laura, my host, companion and guide, had been reading The Crusades by Thomas Asbridge.  Cairo is an amazing example of how much secular politics have created false geographical as well as other constructs in MENA, and how early these constructs began. Not that the 20th century didn’t have a large impact on the overall area – as evidenced by the fact that Pakistan is an acronym: : Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sind, and BaluchisTAN. In Cairo, and as I understand it, Egypt, these constructs started to directly effect the country with its entry into the Byzantium Empire, or around the first century CE.  Egypt has been an empire itself, then a central part of the following: Persian Empire, Ptolemaic Kingdom, Byzantine, Muslim Arab Caliphate and Ottoman Empires.  By the 7th century, Cairo was a Muslim city and remains so to this day. In The Crusades, Asbridge makes note of how the Arabs and Muslims in Cairo saw the infidels invading their lands (aka The European Crusaders) as pagan polytheists, who believed in 3 gods instead of one true god.

The Coptic Museum also reflects a lot of Egypt and how its history is so entwined with religion and war, present and past. It’s amazing how proud this city is of its Coptic history (it is basically the seat of the religion the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.) The items on display demonstrate how Christianity and its imagery developed from the polytheist gods of Old and New Kingdoms of Egypt and later Rome and Greece.  Interestingly, its artifacts span the 3rd century to the 19th, and are housed in a 20th century building that meshes modernism with the aesthetic of the ancient culture it displays, as the images depict cultures combining.

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