Old Cairo is the home of Cairo's Coptic Christian community. 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. While the majority of Egyptians converted to Islam in the 12th century, the Church 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. Today, Egypt has some 12 million Copts, but the narrow alleyways of Old Cairo still have the feel of an island set apart from the rest of the city.
Visitors 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 7 and Easter can fall on a different date.
The Metro train is by far the easiest mode of travel into this district. Mar Girgis station on Cairo Metro Line 1 is located immediately outside the Coptic Cairo quarter. From Midan Tahrir in central Cairo, take the Metro south, the fare costs 1 LE and trains run every few minutes.
- Mosque of Amr ibn al-As, Midan Amr ibn al-As (Off Sharia Mar Girgis, walking distance from Mar Girgis metro station). Open daily to non-Muslims, with the exception of prayer time. The Mosque of Amr ibn al-As was originally built (in Fustat) in 642, as Cairo's first mosque, following the Arab conquest of Egypt. The mosque was rebuilt in 673 by Mu'awiya. The mosque was rebuilt again in 1179 under the rule of Saladin, after expelling the Crusaders.
- Ben Ezra Synagogue. Egypt's oldest surviving synagogue, dating to the 9th century and housed in a former church constructed in the 4th century. The synagogue was established in 1115, in what was previously a Coptic church, when the Copts were forced to sell it to raise funds to pay taxes to Ibn Tulun. The famed Geniza Documents, discovered in the synagogue basement, are of great interest to modern scholars of the medieval period in Egypt.
- Church and Monastery of St George, Mar Girgis St. The Church is open to the public daily from 9AM-5PM, however the monastery is not open to the public. The Church of St. George dates to the 10th century or earlier. However, the current structure on the site was built in the early 20th century, having been rebuilt after a 1904 fire. It should be noted that this church is the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Georgios (Saint George) and it is frequently mislabeled as a Coptic church. A sign in Greek outside the main entrance testifies to this. The church stands on the same grounds as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria's offices and the Greek Orthodox cemetery. One explanation for the church's unusual circular ground floor plan (as seen in the photograph) may be that it was possibly built on ancient circular Roman ramparts. The remains of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs can be found in one of the underground levels of the church. The cemetery contains another Greek Orthodox Church, that of the Dormition of the Virgin.
- Churches of St. Sergius (Abu Serga) and St. Barbara, Near Mari Girgis St. Open from 9AM-4:30PM. St. Sergius is one of the oldest churches in Cairo, built in the 4th century it has been built, destroyed and renovated many times over.
- Coptic Museum, Sharia Mar Girgis, ☎ +20 2 2363 9742. Open on LE 40 (students LE 20)daily 9AM-5PM. Established in 1908 and recently restored to a high standard, the Coptic Museum houses Coptic art and artifacts from Late Antiquity, from the late Roman empire through to the Islamic era and beyond. The presentation is clear in English, French and Arabic with generally well thought out lighting. The display of mainly stone architectural fragments on the ground floor shows the development of the early fusion between Christian and Egyptian symbolism. They also demonstrate that the early Christian era was much cruder in its use of stone than its Pharaonic ancestors. Several frescoes from the early monasteries are displayed. The tapestries and embroideries on the second floor illustrate more homely but highly developed arts. The building itself is a treat, with elaborate wooden screens called mashrabiyya on the windows and ornately carved wooden arabesque ceilings. admission LE 50 (students LE 20).
- Hanging Church, Sharia Mar Girgis. In Arabic, Kineeset al-Muallaqa. The Hanging Church, built in 690, is situated on two bastions of the Roman fortress and its nave is suspended over a passageway. admission free.
- Nilometer (South end of Rhoda Island (Sharia el-Malek as-Salah)). Dating back to 861, the Nilometer is a large stone obelisk that was used to measure the level of the Nile was measured and therefore the tax rates for the farmers fixed. The Nilometer became obsolete when the Aswan Dam was built.
- S.S. Nile Peking (Dinner cruise), Corniche el-Nil (near the El Malek El Saleh Bridge, opposite Ministerly Palace), ☎ +20 2 25199726. Cruises at 8-10:30PM on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 3-5:30PM Friday; also open when not cruising for dining along the riverside.. It's said that this is the boat from Agatha Christie's famous novel "Death on the Nile". The boat features a dining room, where set menus are served, the Shanghai Pub, and a deck from which to watch the Nile.
There are a number of small shops along Mar Girgis Street, near the metro station, selling items including pottery and other crafts.