As I am continuing my travelling around Cairo, after seeing an incredibly fascinating Citadel and learning about its history, I decided to visit the place that not far from Citadel at all. In fact, anyone who decides to visit Citadel just must see this place.
Talking about the land of contrasts, it does`t get more contrast than this. Two different religions leaving in harmony with each other. Some serenity and peace presents in the air.
So, my second discovery of my Beautiful Egypt is – The Cave Church of the Zabbaleen.
One of the amazing Egyptian Cave Churches , this church Carved Out of Solid Rock in Cairo.
The Monastery of Saint Simon, also known as the Cave Church, is located in the Mokattam mountain in southeastern Cairo, Egypt, in an area that is known as ‘garbage city’ because of the large population of garbage collectors or Zabbaleen that live there. The Zabbaleen are descendants of farmers who started migrating from Upper Egypt to Cairo in the 1940s.
For years, the makeshift settlements of the Zabbaleen were moved around the city trying to avoid the municipal authorities. Finally, a large group of Zabbaleen settled under the cliffs of the Mokattam or Moquattam quarries at the eastern edge of the city, which has now grown from a population of 8,000 in the early 1980s, into the largest garbage collector community in Cairo, with approximately 30,000 Zabbaleen inhabitants.
Egypt is a Muslim-majority country, but the Zabbaleen are Coptic Christians, at least, 90 percent of them are. Christian communities are rare to find in Egypt, so the Zabbaleen prefer to stay in Mokattam within their own religious community even though many of them could afford houses elsewhere.
The local Coptic Church in Mokattam Village was established in 1975. After the establishment of the church, the Zabbaleen felt more secure in their location and only then began to use more permanent building materials, such as stone and bricks, for their homes. Given their previous experience of eviction from Giza in 1970, the Zabbaleen had lived in temporary tin huts up till that point. In 1976, a large fire broke out in Manshiyat Nasir, which led to the beginning of the construction of the first church below the Mokattam mountain on a site of 1,000 square meters. Several more churches have been built into the caves found in Mokattam, of which the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner is the largest with a seating capacity of 20,000. In fact, the Cave Church of St. Simon in Mokattam is the largest church in the Middle East.
The Monastery also includes an education center, an area for children, as well as a school for the deaf. Now considered one of the largest Coptic monasteries in Egypt, the grandeur of the churches hidden within the heart of the Mokattam Hills is a relatively recent construction.
I found the size of the Monastary overwhelming in the nicest possible way. I would highly recommend going there first thing in the morning ( 9-10am) on week days.
I went there on Tuesday morning and found this place very serine and quite.
To reach the monastery, you will have to traverse winding pathways past heaps of collected trash within the Zabbaleen village ( I will be writing a separate article about this well known area , called ‘garbage city’ in my next article) . Seven churches and chapels are hidden within a series of caves inside the Monastery; another one of them – The Church of the Virgin Mary .
Beautiful path way will lead you to another amazing cave church.