Cave Churches of Egypt – Members Turning The Worst Matter Into Useful Product

Just like the Bible states in 1 Corinthians 3 verse 19, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; the members of the Cave Churches have turned the waste or the garbage into very useful products through recycling.

One of the Cave Churches in Egypt


Who are these members of the Cave Churches and where can they be found? One can easily get excited to answer these questions. Some would tell you that if you have visited Egypt without visiting the Cave Churches then you have had an incomplete tour of Egypt. Both the Cave Churches and the congregants are found in the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt. Visiting the congregants and the Cave Churches will increase one’s historical and cultural experience. The Mokattam Mountain accommodates the cave Churches while the congregants live just below it.


There are altogether seven churches located within the Mokattam Mountain and their seating capacities vary greatly from three thousand to twenty thousand people. The weekly attendance of congregants is seventy thousand people, almost the total population of the people living in Zabbaleen or Garbage City is the popular name for the area. Almost all the inhabitants of Zabbaleen are Coptic Church members who live very peacefully with the Muslim minority in this area alone. I hope this example should be emulated by all peace-loving Muslims and Christians living elsewhere in the Arab countries.


Egypt is a Muslim dominated country accounting for 90% of the total population. Half of the remaining percentage belongs to the Coptic Church or Eastern Orthodox Church while the other half is split between the Roman Catholic Church and protestant or Evangelical Churches. According to tradition, the Coptic Church claim the longest existence in Egypt since Mark the Apostle himself, founded this Church in about 42 AD.


Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral built at the town centre in Cairo, is the largest church building or cathedral of any denomination in Africa and the Middle East. It has a seating capacity of five thousand worshipers. On the other hand, the Cave Church referred to as the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner is the largest and it has an amphitheatre with a seating capacity of 20,000. This church is the largest church of Coptic believers in Africa and the Middle East.

Aerial View of Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral


There are many things we can tabulate here as the way of life that can be attributed to these Cave Church worshipers called the Zabbaleen. Many Christians and Muslims including other communities have many things to learn about them and even emulate their way of life. Generally, they like following Jesus Christ’s teaching to the letter.


The Zabbaleen communities who are at the same time congregants of the Cave Churches are hardworking people. They are also very enterprising in that they turn what other people consider worthless material into very useful raw materials for bottles, sacks, plastics even scrap metal. UNESCO has recognized their efforts and commended them for recycling 80% of Cairo’s garbage. UNESCO wishes other cities in the world could have similar communities who would be just as enterprising as the Zabbaleen.


Men and their elderly sons above the age of twelve start their day as early as 03.00 hours by moving door to door among the residential areas of Cairo or shopping centres. They pick up whatever waste they come across and have to carry up to 50 kilograms of waste stuffed into sacks on their backs. Sometimes they have to move up and down staircases of four floors collecting the waste before loading them onto donkey carts, wheelbarrows or pick up vans.

Zabbaleen or Garbage City


You cannot appreciate the Zabbaleen’s love for their God until you see the architectural designs involved in coming up with their Caved Churches. One may wonder how this community referred to as the poor community came up with money or great ideas in forming a nice worship centre out of a mountain. Just like their desire to turn useless materials into recyclable products, they overcame the obstacle of a mountain to come up with a masterpiece of a worship centre that can attract visitors from all over the world. God can do wonders and we see the wonderful relationship that exists between these poor people and their God.


With the obnoxious or offensive smell emanating from the garbage everywhere you go in this area except inside the Cave Churches, one can think that some residents of this area would like to relocate to other parts of Cairo. Why should they? This is a place of ancestral settlement and as such, they cannot think of moving away to a place where they cannot enjoy their own worship to the True Living God. They love him and for His sake, they would rather stay in a smelly place, but be able to worship their God freely without any interference from other people who may shoot them as they are worshipping God inside a church building.


It is always said that even among the poor communities; one or two people within the community may rise above the others and be recognized to be the rich ones. Those considered being the rich among the Zabbaleen community are those who employ others to do the dirty work for them and own donkey carts and pick up vehicles for others to hire and transport the garbage from the city centre. Still, others employ many servants at their homes and send their children to expensive private schools within or outside Egypt. Such children come back to the community and continue worshipping God at the Cave Churches.


Like the women mentioned in Luke chapter 8 verses one to three, women like Mary Magdalene, Suzanne and others who supported Jesus Christ’s ministry out of their own pocket money, the Zabbaleen sacrificed their money and time to contribute everything they had to come up with such an impressive worship centre. It is their love for God that has made them ignore the obnoxious smell to stay nearby their own worship centre.


This is a question travellers may be asked. If you ever think of visiting Egypt, do not just visit the pyramids or other places of attraction. Be mesmerized by visiting the settlements below the Mokattam Mountain and their worship centres the caved Churches of Egypt. It shall be a memorable experience for you and anyone else who shall accompany you. God, indeed, uses the marginalized people of this world to come up with the seven caved churches of Zabbaleen. I hope that your visit shall be sooner than later.

You can also read about The Rock-Hewn Churches in Ethiopia

10 thoughts on “Cave Churches of Egypt – Members Turning The Worst Matter Into Useful Product”

  1. Hello dear, thank you for putting out this article it has really been a great help to me and I no it help the public, I have always wanted to visit Egypt and my was focus on seeing the pyramids and all the little resource centres; but I never knew that there are cave churches in Egypt. I have heard of cave churches in other countries but I never knew it was here in Africa. Thanks a lot for this article.

  2. This is a really very interesting article. I love Egypt and always appreciate everything about that place, I was there so a few months ago. I went to see the pyramids and I really enjoyed myself, but I never knew that they were cave churches in Egypt. Now that I know them, I will take some time to go back and be there to see them for myself. Thanks for this awesome article.

    1. David, I would not be surprised if you decided that I was to go back to Egypt. It is a lovely place and I am sure the Pyramids blew your mind away. Your trip purposefully to visit the Cave Churches will be value for money and I hope you will carry the necessary gadgets to capture memorable moments.
      Safe travel to Egypt, David.

  3. Great post you have come up with here. Seeing what this cave churches can do and how they do it really makes a lot of sense. Even more contemporary and pentecostal churches cannot achieve this. I really like this and this Egyptian churches and what they have achieved. Thumbs up to you for sharing this

    1. Rodarrick, thank you for yet again leaving me a comment on this article. I appreciate it.
      The churches were carefully carved from stone and the presence of caves also made it possible for them to make beautiful churches. The Rock-Hewn Churches in Ethiopia are similar. This goes to show the skill and talent that is displayed by man to respect spirituality.

  4. Great post here and I fancy it. To be honest, getting the right matters that are not worthy can make us get into the real age that humanity is supposed to be in. To say I’m impressed with what this cave churches have done is an understatement and I really like this. Thank you for Shari g this developments with us.

    1. Benny, thank you for appreciating this article and the Cave Churches in particular. I hope this motivates you to include Egypt in your travel plans; for not only will you visit these churches but you can also check out the pyramids.

  5. Hi Edgar, Thanks for your fantastic post about ancient churches in Egypt. It makes an interest to visit the churche besides the historical pyramids. Regardless of what Egypt has been going through in the current years. All of we are very well known that Egypt has one of the most distinct, rich and notable histories across the world. By reviewing your post I have come told know Christianity has played a big role in forming Egypt’s past so, churches in Egypt can be seen in each corner of the nation. When people read your article they must think it doesn’t matter whether peoples are a Christian or not, every person visiting Egypt would like to know more about its famous Cave churche history. There’s no better approach to do so than by visiting the wonderful Egyptian Coptic churches. Saint Mark’s church is a Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. It has a contemporary history of Christianity in Cairo. This church is a real flag of contemporary Christian design in the city. This place is historical yet modern and cozy place, so, people who are in Heliopolis this is one of the must-visit churches in Egypt. 

    This is also a new information to me The Zabbaleen community. Peoples who collects the garbage and recycle to it. The Zabbaleen (meaning literally “garbage people”) village at the base of the Mokattam cliffs began around 1969 when the Cairo governor decided to move all of the garbage collectors to a single settlement. The garbage collectors were largely Coptic Christians, and as their numbers continued to grow over the years the need for a centralized church began to grow.

    I would like to people to review your article and I am sure they would have interest to visit most ancient, historical churches in Egypt.

    1. Irin, I appreciate your beautiful comment on the Cave Churches. These churches and the Pyramids, have made Egypt a travel destination for tourists, researchers, students and historians. The churches tend to confirm the spiritual entrenchment in the lives of the Egyptians. 
      I also liked the way of life of the Zabbaleen people and how they became experts in garbage disposal. This is a rare community that we should invest time in knowing and understanding them.

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