Baron Edouard Empain, a Belgian industrialist, fond of establishing electric
railways and street cars visited Cairo at the dawn of the 20th century. To
justify the extension of electric railways over a long distance, he decided to
establish, in the north eastern desert, a city - HELIOPOLIS - (in greek
language: "city of the sun"), the same greek name which Herodotus had
given to the ancient Egyptian city of "On", and to connect central
Cairo to it. To such purpose, he founded in 1904 "The Cairo Electric
Railways and Heliopolis Oasis Company".
Heliopolis First Dwellers
Ingenious ways were devised by the new company to lure cairo inhabitants to
dwell in Heliopolis . Soon the Greek catholic notables originating from Syria
and from Lebanon started to move from the Cairo districts of Shobra and of
Faggalah to Heliopolis. One of them, civil engineer Habib Ayrouth was engaged
by Baron Empain to collaborate with his Belgian civil works team.
The Need for a Church
The Greek catholic community growing in number resorted to Eng. Habib Ayrouth
to locate for them a suitable site to erect a church. The first 2 proposals
were found inadequate. It was finally decided to accept a lot of 1622 sq. m for
the sum of 1622 Egyptian piastres (equivalent to 82 USD at such time value).
The deed was signed by archimandrite Philip Gorra and Mr. George Lutfallah
Zalzal on behalf of the "Greek Catholic Patriarchate" and by Boghos
Nubar Bey on behalf of "The Cairo Electric Railways and Heliopolis Oasis
The Erection of the First Church in Heliopolis
Eng. Habib Ayrouth benevolently drew the architectural plans of a Byzantine
style church with the dimensions of 31m long and 12.5m wide. He also surveyed
its erection in the midst of the sand dunes. To this church , the first to be
erected in Heliopolis, Baron Edouard Empain offered six brown marble columns
from Anvers (Belgium) which are still decorating the entrance of this church
which was dedicated to St.Cyril to honor the silver sacerdotal anniversary of
Cyril VIII Geha, the greek Catholic Patriarch then.
The Consecration of St. Cyril Church
Prayers and masses have been held in the church since 1910 prior to paving the
surrounding streets . It was consecrated on the eighth of June 1912 by H.B.
Patriarch Cyril VIII Moghabghab and the Latin Apostolic Nunce Mgr. Deiry in the
presence of the musical band of the newly established Freres French College and
a multitude of notables.
A four lines poem in Arabic language praising the generosity of the
contributors engraved on a marble plate has been affixed to the entrance of the
The "Corba Church" Nickname
Soon the electric railway was extended and had its terminal opposite St.Cyril
Church. At such time, the street cars were not equipped with a reargear. To
return to central Cairo, they had to make a curve which can still be noticed in
front of the church on the intersection of Baghdad street (formerly Ismail
Pacha Blvrd ) and El-Sawra street (formerly Sultan Hussein Avenue).
The area where the street cars had to perform their return curve is still to
nowadays called "corba area" (from the French "Courbe"),
and the church received the nickname of the "Corba Church".
Fissures in the Walls of St. Cyril Church
The sand dunes of Heliopolis differed from the muddy consistency of Cairo area.
Starting 1935 fissures were noticed in the 31 m long and 6 m high longitudinal
walls of the church. The parish priest, the late F. Theophanos Char solicited
their repair. This was accomplished through the generosity of Mr. Philip
Meimari. In turn Mr. Charles Boulad complemented the amount through the sale at
1 piastre (1/100 of an Egyptian pound ) of holy pictures bearing the invocation
"bless o lord those who love the beauty of your home" .
Three consolidating concrete columns were masterly incorporated into the 2
longitudinal walls of the church. Thereafter, an Italian decorator repainted
all the walls giving them an exact and vivid impression of various types of
Renovation of St. Cyril Church
By 1983 the floor tiles of the church became worn-out, the electric system of
ventilation needed upgrading and the walls had to be repainted, The parish
priest F. Aghanatios Sarkis El Najjar called upon engineer Antoine Saba to
effect such repairs which totaled sixty thousand Egyptian pounds.
Upon completion of the repairs, the renovated church was officially inaugurated
by H. B. Maximos V Hakim on sunday January 1st, 1984.
To complete the Byzantine aspect of St.Cyril Church, the parish priest F.
Nicolas Kanakry requested from Eng. Soussa (in 1945) to erect above the altar a
wooden icon of the lord Jesus surrounded by the icons of his apostles.
Additional icons of the 4 founders of the Byzantine Church were also placed
over the 2 side entrances of the altar. Four chandeliers in wrought iron,
Byzantine style were hanged from the ceiling. In 1996, the brothers Ramy and
Michel Lakah donated to the church decorated wooden alter doors (iconostase) to
complete its Byzantine aspect.
The Present Status of St. Cyril Church
Actual pastor rev. iconomos Rafik Greiche took over the parish in 1994.
In the church court, the parishioners erected a stone grotto for the Virgin
Mary and another for St. Rita.
Through the efforts of F. Greiche, the church attendance tremendously increased
to the extent of considering the extension of the church building itself, a
step requiring skilled architectural experise which nevertheless could affect
the balanced symmetrical harmony of the original building. Several recent
projects have been achieved including putting new tiles in the church outdoor
area, and making a central air conditioning inside the church. All renovations
were supervised b engineers Sherif and Nagui Wassef, both active members in the