Harit Al-Rum

HARIT AL-RUM

Coptic quarter in old Cairo and the residence of the Coptic patriarchs from John XVI (1676-1718) to Cyril IV (1854-1861), who moved the patriarchal seat to the Azbakiyyah quarter in modern Cairo. The name Harit al-Rum means “alley of the Greeks.” The district of Harit al-Rum could be reached from the Sukkariyyah district by the Sibil (drinking font) of Muhammad ‘Ali, which had an old gate to lock the entire quarter for security. The gate eventually became stuck in the accumulated Nile silt and could be closed no more. The churches within this quarter are the Church of the Virgin and the Church of Saint George.

The Church of the Virgin lies 10 feet below the street level and is reached by a stairway. The most striking feature of this church is the twelve domes that surmount its buildings. Inside, these domes rest on six piers connected by round arches, of which two are inside the sanctuary space. The dome directly above the altar has an aperture serving as a window with stained glass; other domes have similar windows that admit a kind of dim lighting into the church. Small in dimensions, the church has a nave and a choir that are continuous at ground level with no partition. Within the nave, a beam stretching between two piers carries a cruciform painting of Jesus hanging from the cross, a skull and bones below His feet signifying the approaching entombment of the Lord. On each side of the picture, there also is a carved wooden eagle strangling a serpent. Each of the two eagles carries on its head a tablet on which an angel is painted. The surmounting the altar is adorned with of Christ and angels.

The body of the church is adorned with icons. These include one of Takla Haymanot, the Abyssinian saint, in patriarchal vestment, as well as Saint Marina trampling Satan.

The old Church of Saint George fell into ruins and a new one is being built on its foundation. In 1981-1982 these foundations showed remains of two churches and tombs dating from the Middle Ages.

The area has been associated with many events in Coptic history, both major and minor. Patriarchal and episcopal consecrations were often confirmed in Harit al-Rum. Church were also held here, such as the episcopal synod that repudiated the simoniacal behavior of LAQLAQ (1235-1243). No precise date can be fixed for this church.

  • Butler, A. The Ancient of Egypt, 2 vols. Oxford, 1887. Reprint, 1970.
  • Coquin, Ch. Les Edifices chrétiens du Caire. Bibliothèque d’Etudes Coptes. Cairo, 1974.
  • Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
  • Raouf Habib. The Ancient of Cairo. Cairo, 1979.

AZIZ S. ATIYA