Guide to a Perfect trip in Egypt!
Saladin El Ayouby built The Citadel Of Saladin during the end of the 12th century. He was a famous king and army leader, as well as the founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. The citadel has witnessed many important events in Egyptian history
For many centuries it was the seat of the king and his government in Egypt. Many dynasties including the Ayyubids, the Mamluks, and even some Ottomans ruled over Egypt from the citadel.
Throughout different stages of Egyptian history, the citadel had always played a significant role in the political life of Egypt. On some occasions, a king would rule over Cairo while another Sultan or ruler had control of the citadel. Moreover, the Citadel has defended Egypt against many attacks in different periods of time.
Many important monuments were built in the Citadel of Saladin throughout its long history. This includes the marvelous Mosque of Mohamed Ali, the best example of the Ottoman architecture in Egypt, the Mamluk Mosque of El Nasser Mohamed, and the small charming Mosque of Suleiman Pasha El Khadim.
Today, the Citadel of Saladin is one of the most popular historical sites of Cairo and is included in almost all the capital tours.
Other than the mosques, the citadel hosts another four interesting museums: the Military Museum, the Police Museum, the Royal Carriages Museum, and the Qaser El Gawhara Museum.
Located at the top of a high cliff, the citadel also provides tourists with magnificent views over different sections around 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 till the 12th century, he decided that Cairo should have a fortified citadel to protect the city against any foreign attacks, especially the threat of the crusaders that were carrying military campaigns towards the Middle East at this period of time.
Saladin found much inspiration in the Syrian and Lebanese citadels for how fortified and protective they were. Recognizing the importance of having such a citadel to protect Cairo, he guided all the resources he had to construct the military structure.
After investigating many different locations in and around Cairo, Saladin decided to construct his citadel over the Mokatam Hill to overlook the whole city of Cairo and to be located at a high position that is hard to be reached or attacked.
Construction of the Citadel began in 1176 during the reign of Saladin. However, it was completed in 1182 during the ruling period of Al Malek El Kamel, who governed Egypt after Saladin and was the first king to live in the citadel.
Saladin insisted to build a strongly fortified citadel to protect the city of Cairo against all manner of threats. It was said that he destructed some small pyramids in Giza and used their stones to build his citadel and its walls.
Many of the soldiers of the army of Saladin, together with some crusaders that were captured by Saladin, worked together in the building of the citadel, which was viewed as a wonderful piece of military architecture upon its completion.
Saladin also dug a water well inside the citadel to be used by the soldiers if the citadel was ever under siege. This well is considered to be one of the most difficult constructions achieved at this period in the 12th century as it was 90 meters deep and it was dug inside the hardest rocks of the Mokatam Mountain.
Regarded as one of the most elegant fortresses to be constructed in the middle ages, the Citadel of Saladin in Cairo is featured with its strategic location overlooking the two neighboring cities that were alive at the time; Fustat and Cairo.
Moreover, being situated between the two cities, the Citadel of Saladin it functioned well as a place to retreat to in the event of a sudden attack on Cairo.
The Citadel of Saladin in Cairo has witnessed several important events throughout the history of Egypt during the Ayyubid and Mamluks period. Even during the French invasion of Egypt, under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, the citadel had an important role to play in defending the city until the French soldiers took control of it.
Mohamed Ali, who was sent by the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul to rule Egypt under his leadership and who was able to make Egypt an independent state away from the Ottoman power in the 19th century, ruled Egypt from the citadel.
Furthermore, it was in the Qaser El Gawhara or the Palace of the Jewel, which is located inside the Citadel of Saladin and was transformed into a museum today, where Mohamed Ali invited the Mamluks leaders and murdered them in the famous political event that was named afterward as the "Massacre of the Citadel"
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 Gate of Mokatam was created inside a thick wall made out of hard rocks to the South of the Tower of Mokatam. In 1785, a wall with several balconies was added to the gate during the reign of Mohamed Yakan Pasha who constructed himself a palace near his gate. Unfortunately, the palace was damaged afterward in different historical events.
When Mohamed Ali came to rule over Egypt he made many restoration and renovations to the Citadel of Saladin as he paved a 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 with time passing by and a large portion of the walls surrounding it was lost as well when the Egyptian government constructed the Salah Salem Road in 1955 and a new door was established where guests enter the citadel through today.
Mohamed Ali has started constructing the Iron Gate in 1822 to be the main gate of the Citadel of Saladin as it allowed larger cannons and equipment to enter the citadel. Mohamed Ali has 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 that overlooks the Bab El Hadeed Street near Dar El Mahfozat, or the Old Building of Archives that was connected to the Citadel and this northern façade is now about 15 meters long and from 16 to 20 meters high.
The Northern façade of the Iron Gate of the Citadel of Saladin has some marvelous architectural elements like the memorial plate that contains some facts about the construction of the gate.
Historians have long argued about the origin of the name of this gate. Some of them claim that it was named the Middle Gate because it was located in the middle between the two administration buildings of the two Sultans; Sultan El Ghoury and Sultan Qalauan afterward.
Other theories noted that 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, which exact construction date is still unknown, and the walls that were surrounding it, as part of his large restoration and renovation works that were carried out in the Citadel of Saladin.
Under Mohamed Ali, there were other monuments added to the Citadel, among them the great alabaster Mosque of Mohamed Ali.
The Citadel of Saladin will always remain one of the most important 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 interesting activities to be done in the citadel while a traveler is touring the Egyptian capital.