Egypt’s incredible monastery carved out of a mountain


The Zabbaleen (garbage collectors) of Egypt support themselves by collecting rubbish door-to-door from the residents of Cairo and recycle up to 80 per cent of the waste that they collect. 

The largest settlement is Mokattam village, called ‘Garbage City’ located at the foot of the Mokattam mountains, where the Zabbaleen were relocated by the government in 1969.

The population is around 20,000 to 30,000, over 90 per cent of which are Coptic Christians.

After creating a new home at Mokattam, the Zabbaleen carved the Monastery of Saint Simon into the entrance of the mountain near the community.

To reach the monastery, visitors must go along winding pathways past the collected rubbish in the village.

But once you reach the area take a few moments to just marvel at the picturesque beauty that’s around you and realise that you have found what could literally be considered a hidden gem within one of the most unexpected areas of Cairo.

You’ll find large, beautifully carved images and Bible verses engraved on the sides of the walls of the cliffs.

The Monastery contains seven churches and chapels in a series of caves in the Mokattam hills.

The two main churches are named after the Virgin Mary and St Simon, in commemoration of a legend which says that Simon the Tanner moved Mokattam mountain with the power of his faith and prayers.

Inside the spacious caves, exquisite engravings cover the walls representing stories from the Bible.

Now considered one of the largest Coptic monasteries in Egypt, the grandeur of the churches hidden within the heart of the Mokattam Hills are relatively recent constructions.

Construction started in 1974 by the Egyptian cleric Samaan Ibrahim, going through many phases until reaching its current shape.

The first church was built with steel and iron sheets. Two years later a brick building was added to celebrate religious holidays.

The unexpected growth of the church’s congregation inspired its founders, Samaan Ibrahim and his companions, to expand the church to its current magnificent form and it has become one of the most significant churches in Egypt.

A well developed sound system and a vast visual screen to transfer a clear sound and picture to the audience was installed. The church is used for holy mass services and spiritual films and meetings are held every Thursday.

After visiting this wonderful monastery complex you can see one of the best views of Cairo, as the entire city can be seen from the mountain.

This is a fantastic place to come and watch the twinkling lights of Cairo late at night over a cup of hot coffee.

There is a coffee shop which converts into an open air cafe at night offering coffee and sheesha. A perfect end to a perfect day.