Coptic Cairo is a part of Old Cairo. It encompasses the Babylon Fortress, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, Church of St. George and many other historical sites. People believed in Christian tradition that the Holy Family visited this area. They stayed at the site of Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga). Coptic Cairo was a stronghold for Christianity in Egypt both before and during the Islamic era, as most of its churches were built after the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the 7th century.

Coptic Cairo

The Hanging Church is one of Cairo’s most famous Coptic Orthodox Churches

History of Coptic Cairo

There is evidence of settlement in the area, when Persians built a fort on the Nile, north of Memphis. The Persians also built a canal from the Nile (at Fustat) to the Red Sea. The Persian settlement called Babylon, reminiscent of the ancient city along the Euphrates. It gained importance while the nearby city of Memphis declined, as did Heliopolis. During the Ptolemaic period, Babylon and its people mostly forgotten.

It is traditionally that the Holy Family visited the area during the Flight into Egypt, seeking refuge from Herod. Further it is held that Christianity began to spread in Egypt when St. Mark arrived in Alexandria, becoming the first Patriarch, though the religion remained underground during the rule of the Romans. As the local population began to organize towards a revolt, the Romans, recognising the strategic importance of the region, took over the fort and relocated it nearby as the Babylon Fortress. Trajan reopened the canal to the Red Sea, bringing increased trade, though Egypt remained a backwater as far as the Romans were concerned.

Under the Romans, St. Mark and his successors were able to convert a substantial portion of the population, from pagan beliefs to Christianity. As the Christian communities in Egypt grew, the Romans persecuted them, under Emperor Diocletian around 300 AD. The persecution continued following the Edict of Milan that declared religious toleration. The Coptic Church later separated from the church of the Romans and the Byzantines. During the reign of Arcadius (395-408), a number of churches were built in Old Cairo.