A quick dash around the treasures of Tutankhamun and a battle through the tourists around the pyramids and the Sphinx can be the extent of many Cairo itineraries.
But east of the Nile lie two neighbourhoods where life continues at a less frenetic pace than in the rest of the city and that have associations with no less than Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Islamic hero who retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders, Salah ad-Din (Saladin).
Egypt's Christian heritage is said to date back to the arrival of Mark, one of the 12 Apostles in the first century AD. Believers were known as Copts (which, via Arabic and Greek simply means Egyptian).
Today there are about six million Copts in Egypt, about 10 per cent of the population, but 1600 years ago Christianity was the official religion of the entire nation.
I reached the area through a vegetable market where fresh produce was still arriving by donkey cart and men were sitting in shady alleys over tiny round tables sipping coffee and smoking sheesha.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
A walk through Cairo's religious history
nzherald (Jill Worrall)