Cairo – the Coptic Quarter, Al-Azhar Park, and other sights

One of the largest cities in the world, home to over 20m people, Cairo was a far more enjoyable and varied experience to visit than I was expecting. It probably doesn’t feature alongside Istanbul or Marrakech as a prime tourist destination for most people, but there is much to see and enjoy in this vast city.

I only spent a day exploring the city (and a second day visiting the pyramids and Egyptian Museum) but have plenty for two posts covering the many mosques, churches, parks and other sights visited. The secret I discovered (when contemplating trying to cross a busy motorway that lacked any pedestrian bridges) was to use Uber extensively. It is incredibly cheap in Cairo, most trips cost about $1, and it saved me time, energy walking in the tiring heat of Cairo in early May (before the really hot weather), and avoided the dangers of crossing the road!

This post covers the Coptic Quarter, one of the oldest parts of Cairo, the beautiful Al-Azhar Park, and a few other random sights.

To start with Al-Azhar Park, opened in 2005, which turned a centuries old rubbish dump into an oasis of greenery, the largest park in the city. It isn’t huge but has been nicely landscaped, with plenty of shade.

On a hill it offers panoramic views of the surrounding city and the many mosques.

There are so many mosques in Cairo!

The Coptic Quarter lies within the walls of the fortress of Babylon built in the 6th century BC. It is ancient but felt unexpectedly new, with well restored churches alternating with shops full of tourist trinkets. After entering through a book lined alleyway my first stop was the St George Shrine.

Saint Barbara Church was more what I expected, though as with all the churches they didn’t seem to be many centuries old in contrast to the atmospheric mosques visited in Cairo.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church is the oldest church, built in the 11th century with 4th century pillars.

This was easily the most impressive tourist shop I found in Egypt, both for its huge collection of objects, and the complete lack of hassle from the staff.

St George Church was one of the largest churches, originally built in the 10th century but rebuilt at the start of the 20th century after a fire. Unlike the other churches on the quarter it is Egyptian Orthodox rather than Coptic.

The nearby Hanging Church dates in part from the 9th century but mostly from the 19th century. This one was particularly heaving with tourists. Personally I much preferred the mosques in Cairo to any of these churches from both an aesthetic and visitor experience.

The Coptic Museum though was well worth visiting, as much for the building with wonderful ceilings and windows, as for the displays themselves.

The evening I arrived into Cairo I went for a short walk from my AirBnB across Cairo University Bridge, home to numerous well lit and sound system equipped drinks carts for people to have a relaxing drink (or wedding photo!) by the traffic.

It offered my first views of the Nile, looking more like the River Thames than I expected with its width and surrounding buildings.

Across the bridge was the Salah Al-Din Mosque, visited just before the call to prayer came at dusk, an atmospheric start to my trip.

Author: jontycrane

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