The Citadel Of Saladin
Saladin El Ayouby built the Citadel Of Saladin towards the end of the 12th century.
He was once a famous king, army leader, and founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. The Citadel has witnessed numerous historical events throughout Egyptian history.
The citadel was the king's seat and his government in Egypt for many centuries. Many dynasties, including the Ayyubids, the Mamluks, and even some Ottomans, had a turn ruling over Egypt from the Citadel.
Throughout different stages of Egyptian history, the Citadel has always played a significant role in Egyptian politics. On some occasions, a king would rule over Cairo while another sultan or ruler controlled the Citadel. The Citadel has defended Egypt against many violent attacks throughout time.
Several important monuments were built in the Citadel of Saladin's long history. This includes the marvelous Mosque of Mohamed Ali, the best example of Ottoman architecture in Egypt. You will also find the Mamluk Mosque of El Nasser Mohamed and the small charming Mosque of Suleiman Pasha El Khadim there.
Today, the Citadel of Saladin is one of Cairo's most famous historical sites and is included in almost every capital tour.
Besides the mosques, the Citadel hosts four more exciting museums: the Military Museum, the Police Museum, the Royal Carriages Museum, and the Qaser El Gawhara Museum.
Located atop a high cliff, the Citadel also provides tourists magnificent views over the bustling city of Cairo.
The Reasons Behind the Construction of the Citadel and its Location
When Saladin took control of Egypt, with no resistance to be mentioned from the Fatimids )who ruled Egypt from the 8th to the 12th century), he decided that Cairo should have a fortified citadel to protect the city against future foreign attacks. This was especially crucial during the threat of the crusaders, who were carrying military campaigns towards the Middle East during this period.
Saladin found much inspiration in the Syrian and Lebanese citadels because they were fortified and protective. He recognized the importance of such a massive citadel to protect Cairo, so he sent all his resources to construct the military structure.
After investigating many locations in and around Cairo, Saladin decided to construct his citadel over Mokatam Hillto, which overlooks the whole city and is in a high position to give the occupants a decisive advantage in an attack.
History of its Construction
Construction of the Citadel began in 1176, during Saladin's reign. However, it wasn't completed until 1182, during Al Malek El Kamel's reign. Al Malek el Kamel governed Egypt after Saladin and was the first king to live in the citadel.
Saladin insisted a strongly fortified citadel was needed to protect the city of Cairo against all threats. It was said that he destroyed some small Giza pyramids to take their stones to build his citadel and its walls. Many of the soldiers of the army of Saladin and some crusaders that Saladin captured worked together in building the fortress. It was viewed as a modern marvel of military architecture upon its completion.
Saladin also dug a water well inside the citadel to be used by the soldiers if the citadel ever came under siege. This well is considered one of the most challenging constructions of the 12th century. It was 90 meters deep, and a true marvel dug inside the hardest rocks of Mokatam Mountain.
Regarded as one of the most elegant fortresses to be constructed during the Middle Ages, the Citadel of Saladin in Cairo, with its strategic location, provided a bird' s-eye view of the two closest cities at the time, Fustat and Cairo.
Moreover, between the two cities, the Citadel of Saladin was an excellent place to retreat if Cairo was ever taken. It was the true definition of a fortress.
Historical Events the Constable Witnessed
The Citadel of Saladin in Cairo has witnessed several momentous events throughout Egypt's history during the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. Even during the French invasion of Egypt under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, the citadel played an essential role in defending the city until, at last, the French soldiers stormed the citadel's walls.
The Ottoman Sultan sent Mohamed Ali to Istanbul to rule Egypt under his leadership. Although he had his plans, he made Egypt an independent state by breaking away from the Ottoman power in the 19th century, who had been lording over Egypt from the citadel.
It was in the Qaser El Gawhara or the Palace of the Jewel, which is located inside the Citadel of Saladin (transformed into a museum today), where Mohamed Ali invited the Mamluk leaders and brutally murdered them to the famous political event that was forever known afterward as the "Massacre of the Citadel."
The Gates of the Citadel of Saladin
El Mokatam Gate
This gate was named El Mokatam Gate because it was created near the Mokatam monitoring tower of the citadel. Constructed during the Ottoman period, this gate is now called the Salah Salem Gate, referring to the street where it is located today.
The Mokatam Gate was constructed inside a thick wall of hard rocks south of the Mokatam Tower. In 1785, a wall with several balconies was added to the gate during the reign of Mohamed Yakan Pasha, who also constructed a palace near the gate. Unfortunately, the palace was laid to ruin as history took its toll.
When Mohamed Ali came to rule over Egypt, he made many restorations and renovations to the Citadel of Saladin as he paved the way between Bab El Mokatam in the citadel and the road located below it, which was 650 meters long.
The Gate of El Mokatam was damaged by the winds of time, and a large portion of the walls surrounding it were lost when the Egyptian government constructed the Salah Salem Road in 1955. At that time, a new door was established where guests enter the citadel today.
Bab Ed Haddad or the Iron Gate
Mohamed Ali started constructing the Iron Gate in 1822. It was to be the main gate of the Citadel of Saladin since it allowed more giant cannons and equipment to enter the citadel. Mohamed Ali also paved a road connecting this gate to the rest of Cairo, and it is today known as the Street of Bab El Hadeed.
The Iron Gate has two main facades: the northern façade, which overlooks Bab El Hadeed Street near Dar El Mahfozat, and the old archiving building, which is connected to the Citadel and now measures about 15 meters long and about 18 meters high.
The northern façade of the Iron Gate of the Citadel of Saladin has some genuinely extraordinary architectural elements, such as the memorial plate containing facts about the gate's construction.
The Middle Gate
Historians have long argued about the origin of this gate's name. Some claim it was named the Middle Gate because it was located between two administration buildings belonging to two sultans, Sultn El Khoury and Sultan Qa,auan.
Other theories supposed it was called the Middle Gate because it was located between the two other main gates of the citadel: the Iron Gate and El Mokatam Gate.
In 1826, Mohamed Ali restored this gate and its surrounding walls as part of his extensive restoration and renovation work in the Citadel of Saladin. Under Mohamed Ali, other monuments were added to the Citadel, including the great alabaster Mosque of Mohamed Ali, a must-see.
The Citadel of Saladin will always remain one of the most essential highlights of Cairo. Visiting the Mosque of Mohamed Ali, the Military Museum, viewing the marvelous architecture of the citadel, and watching Cairo from above are among the most exciting activities to be done as you tour the Egyptian capital.