Old, or Coptic Cairo is the home to the city’s Coptic Christian community. Although Copts live throughout Cairo, this part of the city is without a doubt, their spiritual heart. The Coptic Orthodox Church traces its founding to Saint Mark the Apostle in 42 AD, and is thus arguably the world’s oldest Christian denomination. Coptic texts have been very important to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs since Coptic script is an evolution of the ancient language.
The majority of Egyptians converted to Islam in the 12th century following the Arab conquest, the Coptic Church, however, has survived through centuries of persecution, not only from hostile Muslim rulers such as the Fatimids, but also at the hands of the Crusaders, who viewed the Coptics as heretics and an obstacle in a Christian Holy Land. Today, Egypt has some 12 million Copts, many of whom are world-renown business tycoons.
The narrow alleyways of Coptic Cairo still have the feel of an island set apart from the rest of the city. Travelers are welcome to visit Coptic churches, even during services, which are now mostly held in Arabic. Note that Copts use the Julian calendar, so Christmas falls on January 7th and Easter can fall on a different date. Once home to thousands of Jews, Coptic Cairo’s single synagogue reminds us that not long ago, Christians, Jews, and Muslims shared Cairo in peace.
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