The same day we booked our tour guide for the pyramids, we also booked a “day tour to Islamic and Christian Cairo” through Emo Tours.
After our experience at the pyramids, I briefly entertained the idea of cancelling this second tour. But I didn’t know if we’d get our money back and Ali really was a nice person. Plus…I had visions of how convenient it was to have a car and driver when traveling to different sites in Luxor.
When we chose Egypt as a destination for our holiday break, we knew we’d go on a Nile cruise and we knew we’d see the pyramids. Nothing else was certain. We decided to spend our final week in Cairo because we figured by week three we’d be tired of unpacking and repacking our suitcases (plus, we thought maybe we’d hop up to Alexandria and spend a few days at the beach – forgetting it would be January).
So now we had five days in Cairo and the pyramids only take half a day. We browsed around for some other activities and became intrigued by a tour through the religious sites in Cairo.
Coptic churches, a synagogue, and mosques, followed by a trip to the Khan Khalili Bazaar. It seemed like an interesting way to spend a day.
Our tour began in Old Cairo and our first stop was St. Barbara, the hanging church.
It was built above a Persian fortress and inside it has the same dimensions as Noah’s Ark. It was hard to picture two of every kind of animal inside. The structure was beautifully made of cedar wood. Abraham is rumored to have been buried under the marble pulpit.
Inside the front doors, but before the church itself, is a quaint garden filled with mosaics. Brightly colored and in all shapes and sizes, it was a pleasant place to pass the time.
Our next church was St. Mary’s Church. Considered “modern” for having been built in 1,600 (St. Barbara dates back to the 5th or 6th century AD), it was impressive from the outside and dazzling from the inside: complete with an imposing chandelier.
We had a quick stroll through a cemetery to a 2,000 year-old well that Jesus reportedly drank from with his family. Another “modern” church had been built around it.
We followed the path to Abu Serga, the Crypt of Jesus: A cavern where he lived with his family for three months of his childhood. Throughout the walk I kept thinking back to our time in Ethiopia and their claim that the Ark of the Covenant resides in Axum (though no one is allowed to see it).
Our last stop in the neighborhood was the Ben Ezra Synagogue, formerly a church and no longer used for a functioning congregation. Its tourist attraction is the claim that it is located on the site where baby Moses was found.
Throughout the morning, we were pleasantly surprised by our guide, Ali. A practicing Muslim, he seemed to know much more about Coptic Cairo than he did about the pyramids of Giza. He was a wealth of fun facts.
After that, we were off to the Saladin Citadel. Built on a “mountain,” really more of a hill, it offers impressive views of the city below. With 17 towers and 6 gates, it is a fortress to be reckoned with.