Citadel of Saladin in Cairo

Saturday, 4 November 2023 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Museums, Exhibitions, UNESCO World Heritage, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  5 minutes

© Ahmed zakaria 2025/cc-by-sa-4.0

© Ahmed zakaria 2025/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Citadel of Cairo or Citadel of Saladin is a medieval Islamic-era fortification in Cairo, Egypt, built by Salah ad-Din (Saladin) and further developed by subsequent Egyptian rulers. It was the seat of government in Egypt and the residence of its rulers for nearly 700 years from the 13th century until the construction of Abdeen Palace in the 19th century. Its location on a promontory of the Mokattam hills near the center of Cairo commands a strategic position overlooking the city and dominating its skyline. When it was constructed it was among the most impressive and ambitious military fortification projects of its time. It is now a preserved historic site, including mosques and museums.

In addition to the initial Ayyubid-era construction begun by Saladin in 1176, the Citadel underwent major development during the Mamluk Sultanate that followed, culminating with the construction projects of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad in the 14th century. In the first half of the 19th century Muhammad Ali Pasha demolished many of the older buildings and built new palaces and monuments all across the site, giving it much of its present form. In the 20th century it was used as a military garrison by the British occupation and then by the Egyptian Army until being opened to the public in 1983. In 1976, it was proclaimed by UNESCO as a part of the World Heritage Site Historic Cairo (Islamic Cairo) which was “the new centre of the Islamic world, reaching its golden age in the 14th century.”

The Citadel was built on a promontory beneath the Muqattam Hills, a setting that made it difficult to attack. The efficacy of the Citadel’s location is further demonstrated by the fact that it remained the heart of Egyptian government until the 19th century. During this long period, the layout and structure of the Citadel was repeatedly altered and adapted to suit the designs of new rulers and new regimes, which makes it difficult to reconstitute its original plan or even its plan in subsequent periods. There have been three major construction periods leading to the Citadel’s current form: 12th-century Ayyubid (starting with Saladin), 14th-century Mamluk (under al-Nasir Muhammad), and in the 19th century under Muhammad Ali. The Citadel stopped being the seat of government when Egypt‘s ruler, Khedive Ismail, moved to his newly built Abdin Palace in the new downtown Cairo in 1874. Despite its elaborate defenses, the Citadel never ended up being subjected to a true siege, though it was implicated on various occasions in the political conflicts within Cairo or Egypt.

Mohamed Ali Mosque © Chemist.wael/cc-by-sa-4.0 Mohamed Ali Mosque © Mohamed abdelzaher/cc-by-sa-4.0 Citadel of Saladin map © Néfermaât/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Ahmed zakaria 2025/cc-by-sa-4.0 Courtyard of the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque © Yasser.mahmoud/cc-by-sa-4.0 Egyptian National Military Museum © flickr.com - Francesco Gasparetti/cc-by-2.0 Entrance © Onceinawhile/cc-by-sa-4.0 © flickr.com - Ahmed Al.Badawy/cc-by-sa-2.0 © flickr.com - Francesco Gasparetti/cc-by-2.0
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Egyptian National Military Museum © flickr.com - Francesco Gasparetti/cc-by-2.0
In general, the fortress complex is divided into two parts: the Northern Enclosure (where the National Military Museum is located today), and the Southern Enclosure (where the Mosque of Muhammad Ali is located today). The Northern Enclosure was historically reserved for military garrisons, while the Southern Enclosure was developed as the residence of the sultan. There is also a lower, western enclosure which was historically the site of the royal stables of the Mamluks. However, these functional distinctions were largely erased in the 19th century under Muhammad Ali Pasha, who overhauled the entire site and constructed buildings of various functions throughout the Citadel.

To the west and southwest of the Citadel was a long open field frequently referred to as the “hippodrome” by historians or as the Maydan (“plaza” or “square”).> For centuries this was maintained as a training ground (especially for horsemanship) and as a military parade ground. Its outline is still visible in the layout of the roads (mainly Salah ad-Din Street) on this side of the Citadel.

At the northern end of this hippodrome was another square or plaza known as Rumayla Square (Maydan/Midan Rumayla), today known as Salah al-Din Square (Midan Salah ad-Din) or Citadel Square (Midan al-Qal’a). This was used as a horse market (due to its adjacency to the royal stables), but also as an official square for royal and religious ceremonies. It is occupied today by a large roundabout next to which are the massive mosques of Sultan Hassan and al-Rifa’i.

Read more on Wikipedia Citadel of Saladin (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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