Yesterday, Saturday 11 October, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab joined Pope Tawadros II in a celebration held at the Muallaqa, literally Hanging, Church of the Holy Virgin in Old Cairo to mark the completion of a 16-year, USD5.4 million restoration.
The 4th-century church is among the oldest in Egypt and earned its nickname, the Hanging Church, because it was built over a gatehouse of the 2nd-century Roman fort known as Babylon Fort. It was the seat of popes from the 7th to the 13th century.
Cairo governor Galal Said attended yesterday’s ceremony, as did a number of senior government officials, al-Azhar representative, a number of bishops, abbots, and abbesses of Coptic convents.
Pope Tawadros lauded the State-sponsored restoration executed by the Arab Contractors, one of Egypt’s top engineering contractor firms at the head of which sat Mr Mahlab before he was appointed PM. For his part, Mr Mahlab said the restoration took such a long time because of engineering challenges in dealing with the underground waters that threatened the entire area’s monuments. He asked the construction companies that had participated in the restoration to produce a documentary about the epic work.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damati said that the restoration had been carried out over three phases. The first involved reducing the ground water and fortifying the church foundations and the Babylon fortress beneath it. The walls were then reinforced, missing and decayed stones were replaced, and the masonry cleaned and desalinated.
“The ornamentation and icons—the church is famous for its collection of 90 icons that date form the 15th to the 18th century—were subject to fine restoration in collaboration with Russian experts. New lighting and ventilation systems were installed.”
Located in a heavily populated area, the Hanging Church suffered from air pollution, a high subsoil water level, and leakage of water from the outdated 100-year-old drainage system. Ornamentation of the church’s wooden ceiling was stained with smoke from decades of lit candles and incense, and the walls and foundation suffered from cracks brought about by the 1992 earthquake.
The church is located in what is today known as Old Cairo, a district that goes back in history to the early AD centuries. The area around it is called Mugamaa al-Adyaan, Arabic for ‘religious compound’, which houses a large number of the oldest churches in Egypt; the Amr Ibn al-Aas Mosque which is the first mosque built in Egypt directly after the Arab conquest in the 7th century, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
12 October 2014