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To Cairo: in the footsteps of the Holy Family

On the eve of the opening of regular flights between Moscow and Cairo, it is worth thinking about how to spend time, what to look for from the variety of attractions that the multi-faced capital city of Egypt has to offer, what can serve as an alternative to the usual options and open this country in a new way.

In recent years, the Ministry of Tourism and the Coptic Church of Egypt have been actively promoting and developing a pilgrimage tour – the route of the holy family. It is proposed to follow the path of baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, who were in Egypt for several years, hiding from King Herod. The route itself stretches from Northern Sinai through Cairo and its suburbs to the city of Assiut. It includes 25 revered places to complete the entire journey (excluding North Sinai for security reasons), it will take 5-8 days.

Cairo and its districts occupy a significant part of the route, it begins with a visit to the tree of the Virgin Mary in Mataria, the spreading evergreen sycamore, in the shadow of which the Holy Family stopped for a rest. The tree is not allowed to die and is constantly planted processes, the last time it was done in 1906. The region of Matariya itself is now a densely populated suburb of Cairo, was once a small village with quite fertile soil, so there are good balsamic trees and date palms there. And its name, according to some assumptions, derives from the Latin word “mother”, that is, “mother” precisely because of the existence of the Virgin Mary tree.

Further, following the agricultural road from Cairo to Bilbays, tourists are waited by the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos in the small town of Musturud, there is also a cave and a well; his holy family used for domestic needs, including for swimming, so the place is another name El Mahamma (a place for swimming).

The most famous and old churches located in Old Cairo, are a semblance of a Coptic city. Egyptian Christians (Copts) mostly live in this area, it is notable for its clean streets, numerous narrow alleys, in the depths of which churches are hidden, sometimes quite small in a few square meters. Saint George is very honored here, the metro station, which is located in Old Cairo, is called Mar Girgis. In these places, which are currently the center of Christian culture in Egypt, according to the Coptic tradition, the family of Jesus lived for some time.

Here is the Hanging Church (Al-Muallaka in Arabic) very beautiful as if floating in the air when viewed from afar. The building was built over the wall of an ancient Roman fortress, which serves as the foundation. From 7 to 13 centuries. The temple served as the seat of the Coptic patriarchs, witnessed important choices and religious ceremonies. Of great value is its decoration and icons, made of ebony and ivory, peculiar, without respecting the proportions, but leaving a strong impression. The main icon in the temple depicts the Virgin Mary with Jesus in her arms and John the Baptist, belongs to the 8th century, the image is also called Coptic Mona Lisa. Another interesting feature of the church is its wooden domed roof, imitating the shape of Noah’s ark, giving a stunning impression of old craftsmanship.

The oldest temple in Egypt is the church of Abu Serg. It was built above the cave, where the holy family was hiding at the end of its residence in this country. It is dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus, soldiers of the Roman army, followers of Jesus. The grotto is 10 meters deep, has 2 aisles, a domed ceiling, with a place for baptism. Often, the cave is flooded when the water level in the Nile rises and can be closed to the public. Every year on June 1, the Abu Serga Church holds a festive divine service on the occasion of the arrival of the holy family in Egypt.

If you deviate a little from the route to feel the completeness of the Coptic ensemble, you should go to the church of St. Barbara, it is located very close to the temple of Abu Serg, similar to him in style and architecture. The appearance of the building is rather modest, it does not differ much from the neighboring buildings. Such an unimpressive view was supposed to protect the temple from plundering and unrest, which occurred quite often. The church bears the name of St. Barbara, who was tortured and killed by his own father for Christian beliefs, but was immediately struck by lightning. Her relics are stored here in the sarcophagus. One of the main advantages of the church is a carved iconostasis of the 13th century. ivory, in general, the whole atmosphere inside the building is permeated with antiquity and strong religious traditions.

In the modern well-maintained suburb of Cairo, the Maadi district, 13 km from Ramses Square, on the spot where the holy family sat in a sailing boat to go further to the south of Egypt, now there is the Church of the Virgin Mary.

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