Let`s Explore Egypt

logo Let`s Explore egypt



If you look up the word 'citadel' in a dictionary, you will come up with something like “A fortress in a commanding position in or near a city." and this is what the Saladin Citadel of Cairo is about.

It is built on the edge of the Moqqatam hills dominating Cairo skyline and has a panoramic, magnificent view over the city and as far as the Pyramids of of Giza and even Saqqara on a very clear day. It was built by Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin) in 1176 AD and is considered one of the greatest monuments of military warfare dating back to the Middle Ages. Stories say that Salah al-Din chose this very site for its healthy properties as he hung a piece of meat and it remained fresh for several days and strategically it can be a perfect commanding point to repel attackers. It was a centerpiece of a big project to wall both cities of Cairo and Fustat, not only for military reasons but also to end the dualism the existed in the preceding Fatimid Shi'i Dynasty: Cairo for the elite and Fustat for commoners. The citadel remained the seat of government for about 7 centuries until 1874 when Khedive Ismail Pasha moved to Abdeen palace.

It was almost unavoidable to build a citadel to defend Cairo bearing in mind that:

That period was the time of the Crusaders wars.

Salah al-Din came originally from Syria where every city had a fortress and he brought this custom with him.

Salah al-Din built the citadel on this very site after artificially splitting it from Moqqatam hills. Quarried limestone was used from Moqqatam and large blocks from small pyramids in Giza. The site was not free of buildings, so a number of Fatimid mosques and tombs were demolished in order to clear the site.

According to some contemporary and later historians; much of the work was carried out by Crusader prisoners of war.

To supply the citadel with water Salah al-Din dug Bir Yusu (well of Joseph) as Yusuf was the birth name of Salah al-Din. The well is 87 meters (285 feet deep), its entrance had 300 stairs that goes around the inside of the well, and it was cut through the rock till it reached the water table. This well is considered a magnificent example of hydraulic engineering. There were cattle in its mid-point that moved in a circle to raise the water, there were other cattle at the top to raise the water to their level.

Additional fortification and buildings (mosques, palaces, etc.) were carried out during the Mamluk era (13th century till 15th century) and Ottoman period (16th century till 19th century).

The most important, if not the only one remaining, Mamluk building is the wonderful hypostyle mosque of Al Nasir Muhammad Ibn Qalaoun (built between 1318 and 1355).

Muhammad Ali Pasha, the builder and founder of Modern Egypt, ruled Egypt between 1805 and 1848 and built the famous landmark his mosque in the Ottoman style known as the alabaster mosque with its 82m high and famous French tower clock. South of the mosque is Gawharah (Jewel) palace (built between 1811 and 1814).  It was the seat of government till it was moved to Abdeen palace. During the British occupation (1882-1956) it was the headquarters of the British army until 1946 when it was turned over to the Egyptian army. There is a part that was used as a prison as late as 1981.

Inside the citadel there is also the National Police Museum, built over the site of Mamluk Striped palace. There is also the Military Museum that used to be Muhammad Ali’s Harem palace.

Practical facts:

Hours of operation

Daily 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. (mosques close during Friday prayers)

Entrance fees

Foreign 60 EGP Student 30 EGP

Dress Code

- Shoulders and knees must be covered.

- Low cut or sleeveless tops or shorts are not allowed for both men and women.

Cairo citadel