12 Day Egypt Tour: Cairo, Alexandria, Hurghada, Luxor, Aswan, Nile Cruise

The Citadel of Saladin is a wonderful place to visit during your stay in Cairo, Egypt. The impressive citadel was built by Saladin to defend Cairo against the Crusaders, and it was the government seat till the time of the British colony, 1882, in Egypt.

Salah Ad-Din or Saladin:

Saladin is the Founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. He was born in Tikrit in Iraq in 1138. He was much influenced by Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani. Saladin was able to speak Kurdish and Arabic. He also had great knowledge of genealogies, biographies, and history. He was taught military skills by his uncle Asad Ad-Din Shirkuh. His uncle Shirkuh was sent to Egypt for military backing of Dirgham and, Saldin went along with them. When his uncle Shirkuh died, Saladin succeeded him and, Al-Adid, the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt appointed him as vizier.

To strengthen his feet in Egypt, he began to grant his family members high-ranking positions. In 1170, he was established and very ready to fight the crusaders. In July 1187, Saladin captured most of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He preferred to take Jerusalem without bloodshed and offered generous terms, but those who were inside refused to leave the city. Jerusalem fell into Saladin’s hands in October 1187.

The fall of Jerusalem led to the third crusade in 1189. Crusaders conquered Acre and executed almost 3000 Muslim prisoners of war. In 1192 Saladin and Richard agreed on peace. Saladin died of a fever in 1193 in Damascus, Syria. He was buried in a mausoleum outside the Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus.

Saladin Citadel in Cairo:

The citadel is built upon a steep hill, which rises 75 meters above the eastern side of Cairo. Beneath the western face of the hill is Salah Ad-Din Square, which was the site of the medieval horse-market, sword-makers, bazaar, and hippodrome.

The citadel is divided into three sections:

The Lower Enclosure lies beneath the western slope of the citadel hill on Saladin Square.

The Southern Enclosure overlooks Saladin Square and functioned for most of the citadel’s history as the palace compound of Egypt’s rulers.

The Northern Enclosure is an irregular measuring 560 meters east to west and 320 meters north to south.

History of the citadel:

The citadel was constructed between 1176 and 1183 by Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. In 1207, his nephew Al-Kamil added a number of large towers around the perimeter of the walls. In 1218, Al-Kamil built the first palace complex in what is now known as the royal stables.

Sultan Al-Zaher Baybars Al-Bunduqdari (1260-1277) erected an interior wall dividing the citadel into two enclosures. The Northern Enclosure became the home of the military garrison stationed in the citadel, while the Southern Enclosure was the site of the palace complex.

Sultan An-Nassir Mohamed Ibn Qalawoun (1293-1341) enlarged the Southern Enclosure to twice its original size. He also constructed numerous buildings including the Mosque of An-Nassir Mohamed and the Ablaq (striped) palace.

The Ottomans carried out extensive restoration on many of the walls of the citadel and built a number of new towers and gates. They also constructed two of the four surviving mosques in the citadel: the Mosque of Sulayman Pasha (1528) and the Mosque of Ahmed Katkhuda Al-Azab (1697).

In the reign of Mohamed Ali Pasha (1805-1849) the most sweeping changes in the citadel took place. Mohamed Ali’s most important building is the great mosque he erected in the Southern Enclosure. When Isama’il founded modern Cairo, the citadel ceased to be the official residence of Egypt’s rulers. Isma’il built a military prison in the Southern Enclosure, which today forms part of the Police Museum.

The citadel remained a military installation until the early 1980s. Now it is under the control of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Today’s main features of the citadel are:

The Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha.

The Mosque of An-Nassir Mohamed.

The Police Museum.

The Military Museum.

We only include Mohamed Ali’s Mosque in this post.

Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha:

The Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha (1805-1849) dominates the Southern Enclosure of the citadel. Its spectacular setting, high above Cairo, makes it one of the most famous landmarks in the city. The mosque is approached by a sloping way.

The Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha was designed in the Ottoman style of Istanbul and is unrelated to the architectural tradition of Cairo. It is entered by a massive courtyard, sounded by a domed arcade. In the middle of the courtyard is a fountain carved out of a single block of alabaster, where Muslims performed their ablutions before prayers. It is covered by a domed awning, supported by 8 fluted columns with Corinthian style capitals. Near the fountain are two wells opening onto a lower cistern.

At the far end of the courtyard is an ornate brass Clock Tower given to Mohamed Ali by King Louis Phillippe of France in exchange for the Egyptian obelisk from Luxor Temple. The clock was broken when it arrived in Cairo in 1845 and has never been repaired.

The inner prayer hall is the most impressive part of the mosque. It covered by a central dome, 52 meters high. The dome is surrounded by four semi-domes and four little corner domes, all of the wood covered with sheets of lead. Beneath the domes are six large medallions with the names of God, Prophet Mohamed, and the first four “rightly-guided” Caliphs, Abu Bake, Omar, Othman, and Ali.

The 11-meters high alabaster casing on the walls and central piers is in good condition and offers a welcome contrast to the extravagantly colored ornamentation of the upper stories. The painted columns on the walls above the alabaster were no doubt intended to suggest the illusion of the structural strength but only add to the rather theatrical aura of the mosque’s decoration.

Note that mosques’ decorations contain neither animal nor human subjects as a concession to the Islamic prohibition on the use of figures in religious art, which is very clear in Mohamed Ali’s Mosque.

Although the mosque took nearly 30 years to build, it was not particularly well made. In 1931 the domes began to crack and king Fuad ordered them demolished and rebuilt. The restoration project was completed in 1939 under Faruq.

To the right of the main entrance of the mosque is the tomb of Mohamed Ali, his body was transferred here from his tomb in Hosh Al-Pasha in 1857. The tomb is surrounded by an ornate geometric bronze grill, installed by Said Pasha in 1857 when the mosque was completed.

One of the most important parts of a great congregational mosque is the minbar (pulpit), from which the weekly sermon is delivered during Friday prayer. The mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha is unusual in that, it has two. The largest made of wood and painted gold and green was erected by Mohamed Ali. The minbar is so large, that it was impossible to put in the traditional spot to the right of the Mihrab (prayer niche).

King Faruq added the second smaller minbar in 1939 next to the prayer niche. It is made of alabaster with a raised marble geometric pattern. The plain mihrab is also the work of Faruq, who covered the southeastern wall in alabaster following the rebuilding of the central domes.

The Citadel of Saladin and Mohamed Ali’s Mosque are great places to visit during your stay in Cairo, so we included them in all of our Egypt travel packages. As well as in some of Cairo Day Tours.