The Hanging Church
The Oldest Coptic Remains Built on an Ancient Fortress
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Damien, the Hanging Church, or Al Mu'alaka in Arabic, which means hanging, is the oldest surviving church in Al-Fustat, or Old Cairo. It was called the Hanging Church because it was built over the ruins of 2 old towers that had remained from the ancient fortress of "The Fortress of Babylon."
The entrance to the Church is at the end of a wide staircase reaching several stories high. The doorway is adorned with fine tessellation work with pointed arches and fine relief-work. Upon approach the entrance, the air is filled with harmonious sounds of the Coptic choir, giving a powerful sense of holiness.
The interior of the Church is embellished with Coptic-style painted figures and biblical scenes, with the central focus being the Virgin Mary and St. Damien. The paintings are painted in frescoes placed in arched niches or recesses. The color scheme of the paintings is the same as in other Coptic monuments, using a bright palette of warm hues with a predominant use of gold as a color of royal divinity.
The sections of the Church are decorated with local craftwork typical to the region, including inlaid woodwork with ivory, lanterns with geometric designs, tessellations and abstract ornamentation, conveying regional influences and aesthetics. Another regional construction practice apparent in the Church is the use of carved capitols, columns and marble from earlier Greek monuments. The variety of utilized aesthetics reflects a very interesting atmosphere that exists in harmony and unity in dedication to the Holy Virgin.
The remains of the Fortress of Babylon under the Church can be seen through translucent glass placed in strategic sections in the floor. Being able to look through a floor of plexiglass gives the Church somewhat of a modern feel, and a unique quality of being in mid-air. The Fortress is accessible through an extended entrance behind the Church, and is a frequent destination for tourists, visitors and school-trips to Old-Cairo.
The Church itself is normally crowded with tourists and tour-guides but is also still functioning and welcomes many Christians for prayers. It also provides a very aesthetically maintained alter and dedication that allows its visitors to admire the divine atmosphere and occasionally burn a red candle for the Virgin and the Saint.