According to legend, when the Holy Family was fleeing to Egypt, they stopped to rest under a sycamore tree in the city of Heliopolis, on the site of the modern city of Cairo.
The Virgin Mary is venerated by many Christian denominations. But she is also an important figure in Islam. Muslims know her as Maryam, the mother of Isa (Jesus), who is recognised as a prophet in Islam, and the last prophet before Muhammad. As such, the Tree of the Virgin Mary is a place of importance to Muslim and Christian Egyptians alike. The Cairo district of El Matareya, where the tree is located, takes its name from the shrine; it is derived from the Latin word “mater”, meaning “mother”.
However, the tree is not quite 2,000 years old. In 1656 the tree was dying, but Franciscan priests collected its branches and cultivated a sapling, which grew into the tree that occupies the spot today.
“The renovations of Mary’s tree started in 2019. We built seating areas for visitors and wooden pillars to support the tree as well as a wooden fence around it to protect it,” said the manager of the site, Asmaa Abdel Aziz. In addition to propping up and protecting the tree from pests, ramps have been built to allow people with disabilities easier access to the site, and brochures in Braille are available for visitors with visual impairments.
The renovation project was a joint effort on the part of the Ministry of Antiquities and local development groups promoting the renovation of various historic sites that are said to be connected to the Holy Family’s journey through to Egypt. Ministerial involvement in the project is a part of Egypt’s efforts to revive its tourism sector following the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
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