A few adventurous days in Cairo behind me, it was time to visit a different part of the city. From my research, talking with fellow travellers, and the man at the front desk of the hostel, I decided to visit Coptic Cairo – a christian area in a predominantly muslim city. This area is known especially for its beautiful architecture and complicated history. I packed a day pack, put on an enormous amount of sunscreen, and was on my way. Here’s how to find Coptic Cairo.
How To Find Coptic Cairo
The best way to get to Coptic Cairo is the metro (Mar Girgis station). Look for a giant “M” sign near you – as there are plenty of walkable-distance stops all over the city. I was told that the Cairo metro – the only subway in Africa – had originally been a series of train tracks on either side of the city, later connected via underground tunnels.
The train will cost you a few pounds, and is a fantastic way to see what everyday life in Cairo is like. Waiting in a dark tunnel, the familiar roar of the train echoed in the distance. Within a moment a train pulled a series of cars into view. The doors flung open before the train had stopped, and amidst the pushing crowd, I stepped aboard. It’s important to note that the subway is by no means accessible, as I needed to take a rather large step up to get into the subway car.
I alighted at Mar Girgis station south of the city-centre after the train had moved from dark tunnels to open skies. Fighting my way past a crowd hell-bent on trying to sell me something, I stepped through the gates into an open area surrounded by young flowers and old churches. After some gesturing by a local which I hoped wasn’t sinister, I descended a staircase into a lower-walkway through the compound.
Finding Other Tourists
In a period of five minutes, I went from what seemed like being the only traveller in the city, to one of many. The area was completely filled with tourists. At this point I hadn’t seen any for a while, save the few at the Egyptian museum, so it was a bit of a relief to see other people enjoying Coptic Cairo, and all the creature comforts that usually come with touristic areas.
I explored churches, synagogues, back alleyways, and parking lots for nearly three hours. I took photos, met new friends, and experienced the Egyptian tourism culture of Baksheesh (tipping others). While I did give out quite a few pounds to those showing me prime photo locations, I received some backlash for not wanting to tip a man who had pointed out an entrance to a church which was clearly marked and 3 meters in front of me.
Going somewhere I shouldn’t have
After exploring, I headed back to the open terrace and found a rickety bridge with an armed guard crossing the train tracks. Being the rational, logical and street savvy traveller I am, I decided it was a good idea to cross it. The armed guard made no attempt to stop me, but immediately crossing, I was dissuaded from doing so by about 5 people saying things like“turn back” “not here” and “go away”. Naturally, and stupidly I dared to press on. The bridge took me out of Coptic Cairo and into a not-so-nice neighbourhood. I walked about 30 meters down the street and snapped a few photos before realizing just how out of place I was before heading back.
While the country itself is no less than stunning – and I’ve met many of it’s people who are fantastic ambassadors, Egypt, like many other countries around the world, was having a few of its moments take their toll on me. Luckily though, the good almost always outweighs the bad, and this adventure was of no exception. I highly recommend visiting this area of the city if you get a chance – bring your friends, camera, and sense of adventure.