Scotsabroad's Weblog

May 2, 2008

Babylon Feeling

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 5:24 pm

Good old Cairo. Having spent a good part of last week in Hurghada, surrounded by Russian flesh-monsters, crap service and bad decor, today it was refreshing to be back in our city and out and about. We decided to take the Metro to Old Cairo (Misr el-Qadima) to find the Hanging Church within the area once known as Babylon of Egypt.

The Metro is brilliant: 1 LE gets you anywhere and children go free. The only downside is the time allowed for getting on and off the train. We joked about what we would do if we got separated on the Metro Line and began to briefly discuss with Cairo a contingency plan  – but then thought better of it in case it gave Lucas ideas. Indeed, there was a moment when separation nearly became a reality  – but you can find a huge amount of inner strength when you don’t want some automatic doors to close. The Metro stopped right outside the entrance to the Coptic Museum at Mari Girgis and in the heart of Old Cairo.

I tend to forget that Cairo, during it’s one thousand four hundred year history, has worshipped a God, spiritually and symbolically expressed through the prevailing strength of either a cross or a crescent. The Romans built a fort on this site in about AD 100 and one of the two towers still remain at the entrance. We found the real entrance to the Fortress of Babylon round the corner totally deserted and derelict. It was this Iron Gate (see Cairo’s picture below) that was opened when Babylon surrendered to the Arabs in 640 after a siege of seven months. Old Cairo reflects about 1000 years, an interlude, between pharonic and Islamic civilisation and also the enduring faith of Egypt’s Copts. It was on top of this gateway that the Hanging Church was built across two of the bastions. Also inside Babylon there are other churches and a synagogue. Says a lot for the tolerance of the future Muslim leadership who eventually controlled the city and does not sit comfortably with recent Bush-led opinions about Islam being different from other ‘People of the Book.’ Indeed recent ‘Crusades’ launched from the West against Muslim countries (and people) seem very crude and bigoted when they fail to distinguish between a faith and the fundamentalism hiding within them all. Still, in the city of Cairo, religious architecture from both of these great faiths is most impressive and often share common ground.

The Hanging Church was beautiful. Inside the thirteen pillars holding up the pulpit represent Jesus and the twelve disciples. One of the pillars is black, for Judas, and another is grey for ‘doubting’ Thomas. We then visited the Coptic Museum. This very impressive building stole the limelight from the artifacts. The ceilings in Room 18, taken from old Egyptian houses, were incredible. We then made for the church of St Seguis. This was an incredible walk through narrow lanes and down worn steps that had every tourist trap (for bus parties) known to man. Some shops off the lanes were spaceship in size selling everything from papyrus to religious icons. However, we wanted to reach the church as it is the oldest church within the walls of Old Cairo and Romans garrisoned in the fort may have built it. I wanted to see the crypt below the church where (on this site) the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus are said to have stayed during their flight into Egypt. So did everyone else. The crypt was closed. We looked through the closed doors at the marble flooring below and took in the smell not dissimilar to vinegar. We could only wonder at the crowds, some bringing wilted flower displays (from other churches, weddings?) to place in the church and the intermittent flashing lights attached to a wall hanging of some saint. Very multi-sensory religion. I feel Cairo will survive a wee bit longer yet.

 

P.S. Running with a few chemistry teachers has its benefits. When I spoke of the vinegar smell in the church they announced they were probably using an acetic acid based cleaner on the marble floor. Also might mean it will reopen once the vinegar has cleaned the floor.

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1 Comment »

  1. Andy is that the old roman gate Cairo is standing next to ? He looks really so much older now !!

    Comment by gordon — June 21, 2008 @ 1:25 am | Reply


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