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Citadel of Saladin

Posted On : 03/03/2023 Kate Clark 50
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The Saladin and the Cairo Citadel 

Salah el-Din El Ayoubi (known to European historians as Saladin) overthrew the Fatimid dynasty in 1171 AD and established the new Ayyubid Sunni Caliphate. Given the threat of invasions by the Crusader armies arriving from Europe, Saladin decided to fortify the city and in 1176 AD he started the construction of a wall that would include both Al Qahira (the current Islamic part) and Fustat ( old Cairo).    

Nasr Saladin or famous by the name of “Salah El Din El Ayoubi” was a very historic and famous person in ancient Islamic history and he achieved so many victories against the crusaders who had made so many attacks against Egypt and it is called “ the crusader campaigns “ And thanks to his prowess and the fortress he built to protect the country against any enemy, his name has become linked to victory.

Saladin had requested to build a citadel on the Mokattam hill but the construction of the citadel was not completed and he died before the inauguration and came after the sultan "El Kamel Ebn El Adel" to resume the construction of the fortress and lived there as an official seat of government and is considered to be the first person who chose the citadel as a seat and following this citadel, Sultan “ Muhammad Ali ” had also chosen this citadel as a seat for his government .

The story of Saladin's citadel

The date of the start of construction of the Saladin fortress was between the years (1176 - 1183). The history of this citadel must be studied carefully as it has recorded so many events and different secrets between the Ayyubid and Mamluk times and the attacks by the French.

The Citadel became the fulcrum of this imposing fortification work, which protected the city starting from the heights that surmounted it. Completed in AD 1183, the Citadel of Saladin served as the seat of government in Egypt for 700 years, until Khedive Ismail had it moved to Abdin Palace, within the then-new Downtown complex, in the 1870s.

The Citadel today appears very different from the original fortress built in defense of the Crusader armies. In fact, it was subsequently enlarged and remodeled by various governments. In the 14th century, Sultan Al Nasir Muhammed had a mosque built there that still bears his name, and an enclosure to the south of the fort, alongside the original city wall due to Saladin.  

The most noticeable changes were made in the 19th century, when Muhammed Ali came to power. He was determined to extirpate the Mamluk influence, which had controlled the country for six centuries; he thus demolished the buildings dating back to that era present inside the fortress. 

He also had one of the most famous buildings built today, the Alabaster mosque, in memory of his deceased son which overlooks the entire complex. His profile is one of the characteristic forms dominating the entire city landscape.

What to see inside the Saladin citadel?

Saladin was always thinking about his soldiers and always taking into consideration the security and welfare and economic development for his country and for this reason he built a well of 90 meters, very deep from the ground level of the fortress in order to serve the soldiers to drink in case of siege and this is definitely not easy to do.

In addition to these two mosques, the Citadel includes the National Military Museum, where a large array of ancient uniforms and weapons are exhibited, the Police Museum, and various other museums dedicated to Muhammed Ali's Palace. A third mosque at the height of the northern fence, behind the National Military Museum.

The Soliman Pasha mosque does not have the same impressive dimensions as that of Muhammed Ali or Al Nasir, but its ornate decorations make it a wonderful example of the Ottoman style. 

 Beyond its buildings, what makes the Citadel peculiar is the view it offers over the city. From here, one can understand how Cairo has earned the nickname "the city of a thousand minarets", and during clear weather, even the outline of the Pyramids of Giza can be seen from a distance.

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By Kate Clark

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