Cairo Citadel

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Citadel of Cairo or Citadel of Saladin (قلعة صلاح الدين‎) 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 to the 19th centuries.


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.

circa 1250 BCE

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. In general, the fortress complex is divided into two parts: the Northern Enclosure (which today contains the National Military Museum and other sites), and the Southern Enclosure (which today contains the Mosque of Muhammad Ali and other sites).

Notable Landmarks

circa 1250 BCE

Bab al-'Azab
The Bab al-'Azab, was built by Radwan Katkhuda al-Julfi in 1754, probably on the site of an earlier Mamluk gate known as Bab al-Istabl (Gate of the Stables). The gate was modeled on the old Fatimid gate of Bab al-Futuh (inspect) in the north of Cairo, but its interior facade was later remodeled into a neo-Gothic style (inspect) during the Khedival period.

circa 1250 BCE

Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha
The Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha or Alabaster Mosque (مسجد محمد علي) is a mosque situated in the Citadel of Cairo in Egypt and was commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha between 1830 and 1848. Situated on the summit of the citadel, this Ottoman mosque, the largest to be built in the first half of the 19th century, is, with its animated silhouette and twin minarets, the most visible mosque in Cairo.

circa 1250 BCE

Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalaun Mosque
The Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala'un Mosque is an early 14th-century mosque at the Citadel in Cairo, Egypt. It was built by the Mamluk sultan Al-Nasr Muhammad in 1318 as the royal mosque of the Citadel, where the sultans of Cairo performed their Friday prayers. The mosque is located across the street from the courtyard access to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali.

circa 1250 BCE

Iwan of Sultan al-Ashraf
Al-Nasir demolished, the smaller Iwan throne hall of his brother al-Ashraf in 1311, and replaced it with his own structure known as the Great Iwan (al-Iwan al-Kabir). This may have been out of a desire to make it appear even more prominent and monumental, as well as to perhaps accommodate larger ceremonies. Then he demolished it and rebuilt it yet again in 1333, and it is this incarnation of the Great Iwan which survived up until the 19th century (when it was destroyed during Muhammad Ali's constructions).

circa 1250 BCE

al-Gawhara Palace
Al-Gawhara Palace (قصر الجوهرة) also known as Bijou Palace, is a palace and museum in Cairo, Egypt. The palace is situated south of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali in the Cairo Citadel. It was commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1814. The palace was designed and constructed by artisans contracted from a variety of countries, including Greeks, Turks, Bulgarians and Albanians.

circa 1250 BCE

Bab al-Qulla
Baybars (ruled 1260-1277) was the first one to split the Citadel into two areas by building the Bab al-Qulla, the gate and wall which today separates the Southern and Northern Enclosures of the Citadel. It was named after a keep which he built nearby and which was later torn down by Qalawun. The gate itself was rebuilt again by al-Nasir Muhammad in 1320.

circa 1250 BCE

Mosque of Sulayman Basha al-Khadim
Built in 1528 the mosque of Sulayman Basha al-Khadim (مسجد سليمان باشا الخادم), was first of the Citadel's Ottoman-style mosques and is one of the few structures in Cairo closely resembling the "classical" Ottoman style of the 16th century. It is located in the Northern Enclosure,, just northeast of the Harim Palace (Military Museum). It was built on the ruins of the earlier Mosque of Sidi Sariyya built by Abu-Mansur Qasta, an amir in the Fatimid era (predating the Citadel). Qasta's tomb, dated to 1140 CE, still exists in the mosque today.


See Also


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