Coptic Cairo

Coptic, what’s that, you say? Well, I had to look it up, too – turns out Egypt has not only at least 10% Christians, but it’s a special branch of Christianity that’s unique to northern Africa, with their own language and their own pope – pardon, “Patriarch of Alexandria on the Holy See of Saint Mark“, but “Coptic pope” sounds much cooler.

So I went to so-called “Coptic Cairo”, an are full of coptic churches and monuments.

museum interior.JPG

Also conveniently reachable by the metro, since I was a little sick of walking in cairo traffic (crossing a roundabout? Imagine a giant game of Frogger. Like in other decidedly non-european places, waiting for a gap in traffic does not work. But unlike in e.g. India, there a too many big, fast-moving cars to just walk into traffic and rely on everybody to get out of your way. Waiting for a local to cross in the same direction, and using him as a human shield, works well, and you learn some road-crossing instincts at the same time.)

Funny things about the cairo metro:

  • There are no ticket vending machines. The human vendors can, unlike most vending machines, unfortunately not be switched to English 🙂 I gave up enquiring about zones or fares, just signed how many trips I wanted to take, and ended up with a bunch of single tickets. Which worked, and cost about 10 eurocents each.
  • The platforms have big signs saying “Ladies”. Which, after some initial confustion, is not a sign for a conveniently located toilet, but indicates that the middle part of the train is reserved for ladies only. (Unfortunately, a policeman on the platform prevented me from photographing said sign. “no taking pictures of infrastructure” is another of those weird but universally applicable out-of-Europe things)
  • Oh, there’s cops everywhere. And metal detectors at each metro entrance. I wonder how well that works during rush hour…although I’d say the vast majority of the at least dozen bag searches and metal detector checks at various entrances today was extremely half-assed. The police presence feels more like a combination of jobs program and showing presence to assure tourists than checking for any real danger.

museum entrance.JPG

Entrance to the coptic museum. So clean! and well-maintained! and quiet! with actual green spaces! – sorry cairo, but most of you is not exactly like that, so I almost wept with joy..

me church door.JPG

Most of the coptic churches look like a mosque at first glance, with the typical ornamental and decorative artwork – beautiful! But then you notice the icons of saints, and crosses, and other church-like things. Sort of a weird combination, but beautiful.

maze.JPGMost of the coptic monuments are inside an old fortress, connected by a maze of narrow alleys. This one has a bookseller offering everything from arabic languae courses to the latest Stephen King novel, or a bootleg DVD of the pyramids’ light and sound show.

entrance coptic.JPG

The stairs on the left are the entrance to 90% of the coptic area – did I mention most of the cool stuff in Egypt seems to be hidden in some out of the way corner?

There was a fair number of tourists around, but mostly Egyptians. Most foreigners (of which there are generally very few – not sure if out of season, or scared off by the political situation) only seem to make it to the pyramids and the egyptian museum.

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A quite pretty park, found behind an busy ugly bus station. No idea why there’s goats wandering around the park – there was nobody around besides a few gardeners, who did not seem to mind me wandering around, but whose English did not extend beyond “Which country?” and “Welcome to Egypt”.


Not another coptic church, but an actual mosque – the oldest one in Cairo. Could not go inside, since it was just starting prayer time. But note the impressive loudspeaker array on the minaret – when they call to prayer, they mean it!


An “Ahwa”, as in a coffee place where people hang out and smoke Shishah. Unfortunately, I never found one as relaxing as often described in guidebooks – most seem to be nothing but a whole in the wall, and a few plastic chairs on the sidewalk. This is pretty much as cozy as it gets.

banana guy.JPG

Guy on the street selling tiny, but super tasty, bananas. The endless variety of people is really the coolest thing to see. But it feels intrusive to just take pictures of people on the street – though when asked, people you buy something from are cool with it.

Pro tip: When travelling to a country with a non-roman alphabet, it’s a good idea to at least learn the numbers. Arabic digits are everywhere, and NOT comprehensible..

dates dude.JPG

The area around Cairo has a lot of date palms, and people sure take their dates seriously. The guy here was happy to let me try a few varieties – though do be honest I could not detect much difference in flavor. The ones I chose randomly were good, though.

shop window.JPG

Some beautiful inlaid wood boxes in the window of a shop selling everything from perfumes to kitchenware. Picked up a nice little plate with calligraphic ornaments here. Almost failed due to the shopkeepers complete lack of English, and my complete lack of Arabic – but his wife turned out to speak some French.

With this, enough Cairo – tomorrow I’ll be off to Abu Dhabi.

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