Cave Church (St. Simon the Tanner Monastery)
In Cairo’s Garbage City (Manshiyat Naser), the approach to the Cave Church is a pungent experience, with garbage collectors sifting Cairo’s unsorted waste for recyclable and reusable goods. Yet with space for around 17,000 worshippers, the scale of one of the largest churches in the Middle East impresses—as do the smaller cave churches around it, one of which houses what pilgrims believe is the body of St. Simon.
Many travelers feel most comfortable booking a private guide or joining a tour, to avoid navigating the warren of narrow streets on their own or trying to figure out public transit. Some tours stop by the Cave Church along with much older Coptic churches, such as the Hanging Church or the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus; other excursions delve deep into Zabbaleen lifestyles, with home visits or recycling factory tours.
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Things to Know Before You Go
The Cave Church is a good choice for Christians, anyone interested in environmental issues, and fans of the bizarre.
The church is a place of worship in conservative Cairo. Be sure to dress and behave respectfully.
Always ask permission from local residents before taking photos.
The Cave Church isn’t accessible to wheelchairs.
How to Get There
Set in Mokattam (Muqattam or el-Mokattam) mountain in the Manshiyat Naser district—about a 6-mile (9-kilometer) drive east of Tahrir Square—the Cave Church is best reached with a private driver or on an organized tour.
When to Get There
Coptic Orthodox Christians worship on Fridays and Sundays, which means the church becomes extremely crowded. Visit outside those days for a more serene experience. Avoid the Christmas period and Orthodox Easter.
The Mokattam Mountain Miracle
Some know the Cave Church complex as the Mokattam Mountain Church. Coptic Orthodox Christians believe that St. Simon the Tanner moved the Mokattam mountain during the 10th century, proving the value of Christianity and saving Egypt’s Copts from mass murder. Worshippers at the Cave Church credit its successful foundation to a number of more recent miracles—seek out a local guide to find out more.
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