While there are small numbers of Christian communities the in Muslim-dominated country of Egypt, the Zabbaleen (which literally means “garbage people”) have become the most populous group, retaining their Coptic Christian beliefs and establishing the largest Christian church in the Middle East at the Monastery of Saint Simon.
The Zabbaleen village, located at the base of the Mokattam cliffs, was established around 1969 when the Cairo’s governor moved all garbage collectors to a single settlement. The majority of the garbage collectors were Coptic Christians and over the years their numbers grew, as did the need for a centralized church. In 1975, the first Christian church was built in the village, but after a large fire broke out near the building, the Zabbaleen began working on building a monastery right into the Mokattam cliffside.
That project would become the Monastery of Saint Simon. Named for Simon the Tanner — a craftsman saint who lived during the 10th century — the cave church was dedicated to him, and based on the nature of its construction, the church could indeed last for several more centuries. The Zabbaleen use the cave as their current 20,000-seat monastery with a central pulpit, and another nearby cave was built into and operates as additional church spaces, with all spaces linked to form a massive, Voltron-like Christian complex.
Since tourism through the Zabbaleen’s village is not a thriving industry, being able to traverse to the Monastery of Saint Simon is no easy feat, however since it is the largest Christian church within a handful of countries in that region, hundreds upon thousands of people make the pilgrimage each year to the facility.