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Cairo: History
Roman Cairo

The Roman fort

The Greek Orthodox Church and Monastery of St George (Mari Girgis) is built onto the northern of the twin western towers of the Roman fort.

The current structure was built in 1909 after being gutted by fire in 1904, but the original church is documented from the tenth century. This is the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the Monastery is closed to the public. Until recently, the basement of this church provided access to the lower rooms of the tower of Babylon, but these rooms have now been 'renovated' and no longer bear any trace of their Roman origins; nor are they open to visitors.

Also of interest inside the fort are the Convent of St George, the Churches of St Sergius/St Bacchus

and St Barbara and the Synagogue of Ben Ezra. The Convent is closed, but its tenth-century chapel is worth a visit. The crypt of St Sergius's church is reputedly where the Holy Family sheltered after their flight into Egypt; it suffers badly from water damage (as indeed does all of Old Cairo, although steps are being taken by the Egyptian Government to drain groundwater from the area). This ancient Church was the seat of the Coptic Patriarch from the ninthcentury, but it has undergone some restoration.

The Church of St Barbara, originally dedicated to Sts Cyril and John, was built in the fourth or fifth century; the present structure dates to the eleventh century but, again, it has been extensively restored. The relics of all three Saints, as well as St Juliana, are housed here; contact relics are regularly handed out to visitors by the custodian. The Synagogue of Ben Ezra, a converted Coptic church dedicated to St Michael, is Egypt's oldest Synagogue. It was acquired by the Jewish community around the ninth century and restored by Rabbi Abraham Ben-Ezra in the twelfth century.

Allowed to decay, it was again renovated in the 1980s by the American Jewish Congress. One of the most important historical sources for Cairo was found in this building: the Cairo Geniza archive, a collection of more than 250,000 manuscripts dating from 1002 AD onwards, many of which are now in London and Cambridge. The Fort of Babylon also contains extensive cemeteries: these are leafy and pleasant, and some Roman brickwork can still be seen in places.
(Alison Gascoigne)



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