Africa, Egypt

A Trip To Egypt – Part 7 Islamic Cairo, Coptic Cairo & Khan El Khalili

There is no shortage of places to visit in Cairo, a city that is very rich in religious history. Throughout the centuries, Judaism, Islam and Christianity have each made their mark on the city’s stunning architecture. You can easily spend at least one day exploring these sites as a tourist in Egypt.

Cairo has been labelled the city of 1000 minarets because of the many remarkable mosques throughout the city. Some are located just a few feet from each other. One of the most calming experiences I’ve ever had was hearing the call to prayer ring out over the city from the many mosques.

Citadel of Cairo

Salah Al-Deen the first Sultan of Egypt in 1171 AD began construction of a wall around the city to protect against invaders. The location of the citadel was chosen for its vantage point and housed the government for 700 years after its construction. Over the years the Citadel has had additions and been remodelled by subsequent rulers.

The Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad in the 14th century commissioned a beautifully decorated mosque within the Citadel’s walls. When it was completed it was used by the sultan and his armed forces for daily prayer.

Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque
Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque

Muhammed Ali also built a mosque in the citadel that bears his name and is one of Cairo’s most famous landmarks. The alabaster mosque was constructed using some stones from the Pyramids of Giza.

Citadel of Cairo
Muhammed Ali Mosque, Citadel of Cairo

The Citadel also houses the National Military Museum, the Police Museum, and several more museums dedicated to the palace of Muhammed Ali.

A museum representation of a prisoner in what was once a jail

Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan

A gem from the Mamluk era, it is a mosque that near emptied Egypt’s great treasury. Located right near the citadel, it was built by the ruler Sultan Hassan and completed in 1363 AD. This grand mosque contains four iwans dedicated to teaching the four main beliefs of Sunni Islam. It is a very tranquil spot in the middle of the bustling city of Cairo. Our guide described this place as her personal quiet space, where she finds peace and clarity during trying moments of her life.

El Rifai Mosque

This mosque was constructed in two phases; phase one being 1869 AD to 1880 AD and phase two beginning in 1905 AD till 1911 AD. It lies opposite the Mosque of Sultan Hassan and contains the tombs of members of the Muhammed Ali family. Even if you visit this mosque solely for the purpose of viewing, it definitely won’t disappoint.

Madrassa of Sultan Hassan (Right) & El Rifai Mosque (Left)

El Moez Street (a.k.a. Al Muizz Street)

El Moez Street stretches about 1 km and is also known as an “open air museum” for its long list of historical buildings and beautiful Islamic architecture. Stroll along this street and visit some oldest and largest mosques in Old Cairo such as El Hakem Mosque. Visit this street at night to witness the beauty of the illuminated buildings.

Though Egypt is primarily Muslim country, it has a Coptic Christian population of 10%. There are several monuments of biblical importance located in Old Cairo that are dedicated to the Christian faith. These monuments are nothing short of spectacular and educational.

Hanging Church (Al-Moallaqa)

This is the most famous and one of the oldest of all the Coptic Christian churches in Cairo. It gets its name because it was built over the southern gate of an ancient tower in the Fort of Babylon. It also has a wooden roof in the shape of Noah’s Ark. This church has 110 icons, the oldest being the Coptic Mona Lisa (a representation of The Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist) from the 8th century.

Noah’s Ark ceiling

Saint Sergius and Bacchus Church

This is a pretty interesting church for historical purposes. It is built over a cave where the Holy family of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus rested during their journey to Egypt. The holy family fled persecution from King Herod of Judea and his campaign of killing the firstborn child. Today, preserved artifacts such as a water well and foot stones used by the holy family can be seen in this church.

The well used by the Holy Family

Jewish Synagogue of Ben Ezra

The Synagogue, initially a Coptic Christian church was sold to the Jews in 882 AD to get the necessary money to pay tax dues to Muslim rulers. The church was sold for 20,000 Dinars to Abraham Ben Ezra. This church, would come to be the source of a rich collection of abandoned Hebrew manuscripts that were discovered from the synagogue’s store room, during the 19th century . These documents are now studied and housed at the Cambridge University in England.

There’s a local folklore that this Synagogue is the site where pharaoh’s daughter found Baby Moses.

The Cave Church the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner

The Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner (the Cave Church) is A Coptic Church established in 1975 and located in the Mokattam hills. Getting there requires passing through the “Garbage City” of Zabbaleen village. The people (the unofficial sanitation crew) living in this village, earn their keep by collecting, sorting and recycling the waste from the city of Cairo. The Church is carved in the rocks of the mountain and is a place of miracles.

It has a seating capacity for over 20,000 persons for its weekly Sunday worship. It’s the largest church in the Middle East… AMAZING!

After checking out all the religious history, there’s still more things to do in Cairo…

Al-Azhar Park

For 500 years the site of this park was a garbage dump. A project to convert it into the beautifully landscaped park it is today began in 1984 and it opened in 2005. Al-Azhar park offers spectacular views of the city, gardens, fountains, a playground, food carts and restaurants.

Citadel View Studio Misr Kanafeh
A large serving of Kanafeh from the restaurant

We had lunch at the Citadel View Studio Misr. The food was great but it was one of the more expensive meals I had in Cairo. The desserts were good with large portion sizes, that we were unable to finish.

This park is a very popular spot for locals and tourists to enjoy the scenery and atmosphere.

Khan El Khalili Bazaar

On our Cairo days we stayed at the Australian hostel, before taking a taxi we would always ask how much should it cost to our destination. So we got into non an English-speaking taxi driver’s car after some help from an English-speaking gentleman on the street. We agreed (the translator included) on a price of 15 EGP which was in range of what we were told by the hostel. On arrival Khan El Khalili the driver changed the price on to 50 EGP. He also started yelling and shouting words which we didn’t understand. Though, we did manage to decipher, “Harem”, which means “forbidden”. We still refused his price, but we did pay 30EGP.

This souq runs alongside El Moez Street and it dates back to the 14th century. Even if you have no interest in shopping, walking through the Khan El Khalili Bazaar is a wonderful experience. It’s something that you should do as long as you’re in Cairo. Some vendors can be quite aggressive (like the taxi driver) when you try to leave their store; one guy actually followed for a while trying to convince us to come back to his store. There isn’t anything to worry about, it’s all harmless. If you are not interested, a very firm “No” will do the job. The souq is quite large; it has many corridors filled with spices (I love the aroma of a spice market), perfume, sweets, foods, trinkets, clothes, rugs, lamps, souvenirs, jewelry, coffee shops, papyrus scrolls shisha and many other fine Egyptian crafts.

I did a bit of shopping at this souq. I tried to buy useful souvenirs for friends and family, however most people seemed to be interested in the purely decorative things, like miniature pyramids and genie lamps. There was also an impressive selection of perfume oils. I picked up a few bottles and to be quite honest, I don’t think that I’ll ever buy a commercial brand again. Be sure to shop around and negotiate your butt off to ensure you get the best deal. Don’t worry, they expect it!

My lamp.. No genie here 🙁

Hope you enjoyed all the details on my trip to Egypt. Check out the Travel and Treatz Facebook page for more photos from religious Cairo.

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36 thoughts on “A Trip To Egypt – Part 7 Islamic Cairo, Coptic Cairo & Khan El Khalili

  1. A very smooth nice read😊
    Informative! But not overly complexed by too many facts.
    Luved the pics!!
    Egypt looks all clean & fresh, through your eyes😉
    How was the drive through the ‘garbage village ‘?
    Trinidad needs to build a fancy park over their dump!!

    1. Hi Sush,
      I’m so happy that you enjoyed this post! The garbage city is not a tourist area, it has bad roads and somewhat dirty streets, but the resourcefulness of the residents is quite remarkable. You should definitely visit!

  2. Hi Savita, thank you for this page. I loved reading through it and seeing the beautiful photos. I felt I’d been transported there, and I wanted to learn more. I will definitely be visiting your site again for ideas and inspiration!

  3. Savita,
    Great article and it brought back memories of a trip I took to Cairo quite a few years ago. I did the Museum of Cairo and Great Pyramids type tour. Great day tour and I even got to ride a camel.
    You have some wonderful pictures and now I wish I had been able to stay a little longer. The tour(s) you were on sound like a lot of interesting facts and history. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi! I’m glad you enjoyed this post! I spend 17 days in Egypt, it still wasn’t enough. I love the historical sites, they are fascinating how much the ancient egytians did…. the Pyramids are a glaring example of this.

  4. Thanks Savita, Enjoyed this a lot , very easy to read and great info .
    Flowed nicely and nice use of Pics . Never been to Cairo now I think I want to go
    Keep up the great work (:

  5. Beautiful sites and beautiful countries. I like the representation you gave to all religions that have made their marks on these countries and help people better understand these traditions and people.

    Living here in the USA, it is hard to imagine places that dated back 1000’s of years, so websites as this serve as a great education tool.

    The article was an enjoyment to read and well displayed.

    Great work.

  6. Looks like this would be an amazing place to see! The cave church is awesome! It reminds me of Red Rocks Amphitheater. Thank you for sharing, love the photos.

  7. Hey Savita,
    Those images are absolutely beautiful. Are you selling something on your site or is it a personal blog? I envy you seem to really enjoy your topics!
    Love your site!

  8. Hi Savita,

    I really enjoyed the photo-tour. I had no idea Cairo held so many locations of import to so many religions. It must have been amazing to see them all through the eyes of the people who valued them so much. I’m not Muslim, myself, but I can see how tranquil the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan would be.

    It was especially interesting to me to see how these religious locations were integrated (or not) with the political and historical events of the time surrounding them. Even Sergius and Bacchus are considered to be protectors of armies.

    One question: what is that dessert you photographed?

    1. I myself was surprised by the atmosphere of all the mosques I visited and the architecture was really jaw dropping. About the dessert….I think the dessert is called kanafeh, the menu was mostly in arabic, i ordered it based on its photo 🙂 But it’s a sweet pastry with a creme centre topped with nuts. It’s pretty delicious…. it’s too much for one person though.

  9. I really enjoyed this post, Savita! I found the pieces that incorporated the history of Egypt into the landmarks really interesting as I am a bit of a history buff myself. I loved Cairo when I visited a few years back, but I really need to return as I only spent two days there.

  10. Great sites! I see Egypt in a better light now. I’ve always wanted to travel to Cairo. I just learned something new about Muhammad Ali, wow. He built a mosque, I would never of guessed. There is so much rich history that dates way back. I’ll put this down on my to do list one day. I want to see these mosques.

    Thanks for letting me read this. I enjoyed it all.

  11. Wow, part 7 of your amazing trip. You have so many beautiful pictures and an amazing story to show for. I really enjoy reading about your trip. Of all the places I would love to travel, Egypt would be the first choice. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I didn’t know Muhammad Ali built a mosque?? That’s amazing, I’d love to go visit it sometime (I’m a Muslim so it makes sense). I like places that are proud to showcase their history to the public so we can get a bit of backstory as to how it got there. I don’t know how to feel about the aggressive/pushy workers. But aside from that, Cairo sounds like a great place. What would you rate your experience out of 10?

    1. I didn’t know he built a mosque either until I got there 🙂 Cairo is amazing, don’t let the taxi/souq situation deter you, it’s quite harmless. Also, if these things didn’t happen, my blog might be boring. I’d rate my experience as an 11, but again, I had a tour guide for the historical sites and mosques, I wouldn’t appreciate it without a guide or doing a lot of research before hand.

  13. Hi Savita! I really enjoyed reading about your trip to Egypt. I have been wanting to go there for a long time and my brother and I were just talking about taking a trip the other night! I’ll definitely have to bring this destination up to him. Thank you for all the great info and the beautiful pictures. I really love your website logo too!

  14. I’ve never even thought of going to Egypt but it is now a destination plan! Love the pics of the worship centers and how green the old dump site was but my favorite was the genie-less lamp, I like collecting things like that. I think your wanderlust is contagious 🙂

    1. Haha! Thanks for reading. That lamp was pretty popular with some relatives… .so popular it might go missing. Be sure to follow on social media as well. Sometimes I post more pics there.

  15. Hi Savita, what a wonderful experience you have had in Egypt. I have been a coupe of times but I didn’t visit Cairo but wish I had as it’s always been one of those seemingly enchanting, mystical places that I’ve always wanted to go to. Maybe I watched too many of those explorer type films as a kid which gave me a fascination with ancient Egypt with the tombs and mummies.

    I can see fro your blog that it is so much more than that and offers some beautiful mosques and tranquil settings. You can almost feel the sense of peace in these places and next time I go to Egypt I will make sure I visit Cairo.

    Thank you for your lovely blog.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. As a teenager, I had a similar fascination, I watched a lot of programs on the Discovery Channel about Ancient Egypt, I’m glad that I made it there. What parts of Egypt did you visit?

  16. Hi Savita sounds like you had an amazing trip to Egypt.

    I really enjoyed reading your article and the wonderful photos made me feel like I was there!

    I was in Egypt about 25 years ago, I bet it has changed so much since then.

    It’s interesting I came across your article about Egypt as my friends have just come back from there and I am also thinking of going there this year.

    Love your site.. keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Moni,
      I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. It was an amazing trip, took 7 posts to tell the tale, but i’m happy to share. I would actually love to see photos of what Cairo looked like 25 years ago, I think that it’s such an alluring city. I hope to visit again someday, I’d like to get to know it better.

    1. Hi Niki!
      All guides were arranged by the tour company and manager (Meedo) at the Australian Hostel in Cairo. All guides assigned were wonderful. I basically, gave a list of things that I wanted to do and they made it happen at a VERY good price. Let me know if you have any other questions.


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