Garbage City and the Cave Churches, Manshiyat Naser
Garbage City is situated in the Manshiyat Naser neighbourhood at the foot of the Mokattam hill in the Southeast end of Cairo. This is one of the most interesting districts in Cairo and is definitely worth visiting.
The Zabaleen collect the garbage from across Cairo, it is then transported to this part of the city where the people who live and work here sort the trash manually in the streets and in their homes. Most buildings are slim and around three stories high. Traditionally men and boys collect the garbage in trucks or by donkey carts and the women and younger children sort through the trash on the ground floor and live on the other floors.
Believe it or not, the Zabaleen actually have created one of the best recycling systems in the world, processing between 80-85% of the garbage they collect.
There no reason to worry about your safety when visiting Garbage City, but it is recommended that you bring a guide. Sweet Cairo had a local employee from the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE) NGO working in the area to show us around and gave him 100LE for the trouble. The APE centre is also where you can buy handmade products from their workshops; local women use the recycled materials to make jewellery, patchwork dolls and gift cards. It’s a great place to buy good quality gifts and you would be helping a community. Many of the products are on sale around the city at inflated prices, go straight to the source for the best price.
The Zabaleen are predominantly Coptic Christian and there are several churches in and around the area catering to the thousands of people living there. One of the best known is the St Simon Monastery, which is made up of two massive cave churches carved into the rock and one smaller church. The monks at the monastery are happy to walk around with you and recount the fascinating story behind the church and the miracle that moved the mountain.
The whole monastery is adorned with religious carvings depicting scenes from the bible. Mario created these artistic carvings, a Polish man who has lived in Cairo for 20 years and dedicated that time to the monastery. He not only carves but he helps to maintain the spectacular caves, making repairs where necessary. The monks’ tours are free but they will most likely ask for a donation for the monastery, so give whatever you feel is right.
Sweet Cairo thoroughly enjoyed seeing ‘Garabage City’ and the monastery. We recommend making a day trip out of it and finish up with sunset drinks at The Virginian.