The Citadel is one of Cairo's
most popular tourist attractions. It houses several museums,
ancient mosques and other sites, situated on a spur of
limestone that had been separated from its parent Moqattam
Hills through quarrying.
One of history’s greatest medieval monuments, the Citadel is
a highly prominent landmark on the capital’s eastern
skyline. When viewed from the north, the Citadel reveals a
very medieval “look”.
The place where the Citadel is now situated has its origins
not as a great military base of operations, but as the
pavilion created by Hatim Ibn Hartama, a former governor,
who built it in 810 known as the "Dome of the Wind"
pavilion. Even now, this place was well known for its
unusually cool breeze.
Not realizing the area’s strategic importance, these
early governors just used the pavilion primarily for
its view of Cairo.
During 1176 and 1183, the Abbasid
Ruler Salah ad-Din (Saladin to Westerners 1171-1193
AD), secured the area to protect it against attacks
by the Crusaders, and from that time on it has never
been without a military fort. Originally it served
as both a military fortress and a royal city.
As legend would have it, Salah ad-Din chose the area
for its healthy air. The story goes that he hung
pieces of meat up all around Cairo. Everywhere else
the meat spoilt within a day, except the ones at the
Citadel area where it remained fresh for many days.
But in truth this area gives a strategic advantage both to
take over Cairo and to repel outside attackers. Salah ad-Din
hailed from Syria where each city had some kind of fortress
to serve as a stronghold for the local ruler so it was only
logical that he would practice this custom in Egypt.
Salah ad-Din employed the most modern fortress building ways
of that time to build the original Citadel. Great, round
towers were built jutting out from the walls so that
soldiers could shoot fire on those who might climb the
walls. The walls were ten meters (30 ft) high and three
meters (10 ft) thick.
The Bir Yusuf (Salah
ad-Din's Well) was dug in order to supply the
residents of the fortress with continuous supply of
potable water. About 87 meters (285 ft) deep, they
cut though solid rock until they reached the water
table. It is not simply a shaft. There is a ramp big
enough so that beats could go down into the well in
order to power the machinery that brought the water.
Unfortunately, the well is off limits to tourists
these days. Most of the structure was built after
Salah ad-Din's rule. It was added to by almost every
invader including the British, some of whom replaced
much of what existed before them.
After Salah ad-Din’s death, Al-Kamil, his nephew,
strengthened the Citadel by enlarging several of the towers.
He specifically encased the Burg al-Haddad (Blacksmith's
Tower) and the Burgar-Ramlab (Sand Tower) making them more
than three times larger.
The narrow pass of the Muqattam
hills and the Citadel were controlled by these towers. He
also built several great keeps (towers) surrounding the
walls, three of which overlook the modern Citadel parking