see + do
Coptic Museum and Old Cairo, Cairo
Tel: 20 2 363 9742
Concierge.com's insider take:
Situated in two early-20th-century buildings within the walled Roman fortress of Babylon, the Coptic Museum contains such artifacts as funeral stelae carved with Coptic inscriptions, manuscripts, icons, textiles, and examples of ivory, wood, pottery, and glass. A bridge between the art of ancient Egypt and the Islamic era, Coptic imagery often fuses deities and motifs from the Pharaonic and Roman eras. The museum's most moving objects are frescoes found in monastery prayer niches, for example, a sixth-century image of Jesus being suckled by Mary in an echo of the Egyptian goddess Isis suckling Osiris three millennia earlier.
Just down the street from the museum lies Old Cairo, the local name for the original Coptic quarter. A warren of Roman-era walls, narrow alleys, churches, and the restored Ben Ezra Synagogue, the neighborhood evokes the Cairo of a simpler, pre-skyscraper agenot to mention showcasing the quite striking environment (these days) of Jews, Arabs, and Christians living together in relative peace in a Middle Eastern city. Morning mass in the Coptic language is held in the churches of Old Cairo on Friday, Sunday, and religious holidays. The elaborate Hanging Church is a three-part basilica dating to the seventh century and has the most seating. Art and history lovers should head for the dark and gloomy fourth-century church of St. Sergius, which displays icons, silver chandeliers, and votives left by ancient pilgrims who visited the crypt where the holy family is said to have stayed during its flight into Egypt. To see the faith in action, go to St. George's Chapel. Set in a Mamluk-era palace, the chapel contains an ancient iron collar and chain associated with the saint (the story of Saint George and the dragon has origins in the pharaonic myth of Horus slaying Seth, a desert monster). Every day you'll see worshippers lining up to touch and kiss the relics, still believed to have healing properties.
Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
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