This simple and graceful little temple behind the Church of St. George is the oldest synagogue in Egypt. Though the site itself has been holy to the Jews as long as they've been in Egypt -- it is said to be where Moses was found in the reeds -- the structure there today was originally built as the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in the 4th century and did not become a synagogue until the 9th century (after St. Michael's was closed during the reign of Khalif al Hakim, the insane Fatimid ruler who, among other things, banned sleeping at night and making women's shoes). The building was restored in the 12th century by Abraham Ben Ezra, who was rabbi of Jerusalem, and extensively rebuilt in the 1890s. During the rebuilding process a huge cache of documents was found in a geniza (hiding place). More a disposal method than an archive (old scrolls and documents were placed there for fear of discarding something with the word of God written on it), this collection of around 250,000 pieces of paper includes contracts, receipts, and ordinary correspondence that have allowed researchers to reconstruct daily life in Fustat. Restored again in the 1980s, Ben Ezra is in great condition today and definitely warrants a visit.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Recommended 2010