• Travel

    Travel Diaries: The Saladin Citadel of Cairo

    Today the Citadel is one of Egypt main attractions and is often the most popular non-pharaonic monuments. One may walk through time here, from the medieval era onward. Sprawling over a limestone spur on the city’s eastern edge, the Citadel, started by Saladin in 1176 as a fortification against the Crusaders, was home to Egypt’s rulers for 700 years. The Citadel is one of the world’s greatest monuments to medieval warfare, as well as a highly visible landmark on Cairo’s eastern skyline. Particularly when viewed from the back side (from the north), the Citadel reveals a very medieval character. I was excited, given mosques in foreign countries always have a way of pulling on my heartstrings. It is overwhelming to see Islam being practiced all over the world.



    The Citadel has been expanded and remodeled by many different rulers. It was actually in the 14th century that Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammed built a mosque there that still bears his name and the Southern Enclosure of the fort next to Saladin’s original walls. What stands out is truly the breathtaking architecture, and the similarity this mosque has to the Blue Mosque located in Turkey. I absolutely love Islamic Architecture and this mosque was a beautiful example of why that is.

    Cairo Citadel as it stands today is home to a number of mosques, one of which is the Alabaster Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pashar, located on the summit of the Citadel. Nobody actually knows for sure how or why the Citadel has to some extent taken on the name of this particular mosque. Some believe it’s because of the mosque’s location on the summit, while others argue that it’s because Muhammad Ali Pashar was the last one to seize power of the Citadel when he took it from the Mamluk’s in 1805.

    The Citadel offers an invaluable glance into Cairo (and Egypt’s history) and once again, is an impressive architectural wonder. The courtyard is beautiful and the inside of the mosque has beautiful blue and gold decorated domes. As always on the floor there are red carpets with rectangular places for worship. You can exit through the back entrance which gives access to the beautiful fortification walls. From there it’s a short walk back to the parking lot.

    You cannot offer any prayers in this masjid, which was a bit of a disappointment. It is solely a tourist destination at this point and a place for visitors to marvel at the beauty of the palace. We were there on a weekday, and surprisingly – I thought it would be busier. It was easy to roam through and take in every nook and cranny of the interior and exterior of the palace. However, I do wish I had known more of the history behind each stone and how it came to be. Our tour guide gave us a lot of privacy and provided a brief summary of the history. But much like our other tours — their main concern was taking photographs. So read up and do your research before hand!

    Sprawling over a limestone spur on the city’s eastern edge, the Citadel, started by Saladin in 1176 as a fortification against the Crusaders, was home to Egypt’s rulers for 700 years. Legend has it that Salah ad-Din chose the site for its healthy air. The story goes that he hung pieces of meat up all around Cairo. Everywhere the meat spoilt within a day, with the exception of the Citadel area where it remained fresh for several days. We could see why this was.

    Even though coming in from Canada, the 25 degree weather wasn’t as hot as it was comfortable. However, the breeze in the courtyard was significantly cleaner as it filled our lungs.  We were also lucky to be there on a clear day and saw Giza’s Pyramids poking up in the far distance. Can’t complain about that 😉