The Unique History of the “Hanging Church” in Coptic Cairo, Egypt

The Church of Virgin Mary in Old Cairo is more commonly referred to as the “Hanging Church”. It gets its name from the fact that it was built on the ruins of two towers from the old roman fortress of Babylon. The church dates back to the 4th century and is one of the oldest churches of any kind in Cairo. The entrance to the church is quite stunning as you have to climb 29 steps up to the entrance, which sits on top of the ruins. It is harder to imagine today the effect that it had of seeming to be suspended above the towers, hence the feeling that it is hanging above the ruins.

Ornate Doorway
Murals on the Walls as You Head Toward the Steps
Columns in the Church
Looking Down on Tower Ruins That Support the Church
Floors Inside the Church

The Hanging Church was built in the basilican style and was meant to mimic the shape of Noah’s ark. There is a large, marble pulpit and one of the main features is the sanctuary screen, which is made of cedar wood and ebony inlaid with ivory. The church also has 110 icons that have been provided to the church over the centuries and are on display. It was one of the last places that we visited on a very busy day in Cairo that included going to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, sailing in a felucca on the Nile River, visiting Abu Serga Church (Cave Church), Ben Ezra Synagogue, Church of St. George, and the ancient Babylon Fortress.

View from the Top of the Stairs
Some of the Icons in the Church
Ceiling and Chandelier
One of the Towers
Flowers in the Courtyard
Sign on the Wall of the Entrance

Babylon Fortress in Old Cairo, Egypt

There are many reasons to visit the section of Cairo known as Coptic Cairo and seeing the ancient Babylon Fortress is certainly one of them. The fortress originally sat on the banks of the Nile, long before the dams in Aswan were built to control the water levels of the river. At the time that it was constructed, some time around 500 BC, it served as the boundary between Lower and Middle Egypt and was the location where boats paid tolls to either ascend or descend the Nile.

Ancient Babylon Fortress

Fortress Wall

The entire Babylon Fortress Complex includes many historic sites, including the Church of St. George, Hanging Church, Abu Serga Church (officially known as Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church as well as the Cavern Church), and the Hanging Church (St. Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church). Coptic Cairo is part of the area known as Old Cairo and has many historic sites to see as well as one of the best markets (bazaars) in Cairo called Khan el-Khalili. There is very little left of the fortress itself, but what is there is quite fascinating to see.

Looking Down at the Fortress

Babylon Fortress

We took a tour of Coptic Cairo and we’d definitely recommend visiting the area with a knowledgeable guide that can explain the history of the area. From being the location where baby Moses was reported to have been found, the location where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus stayed toward the end of their time in Egypt, and Roman occupation, the history is as old as civilization itself.

Fortress Exterior

Circular Fortress Remains