The Citadel of Salah El-Din (Saladin) in Cairo: a Monumental Landmark in the History of Islamic Architecture
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The Citadel of Salah El-Din (Saladin) in Cairo: a Monumental Landmark in the History of Islamic Architecture

The Citadel of Cairo was built between 1176-1183 by Salah El-Din (Saladin) as a royal residence and military barracks, which would protect the city from the attack of the Crusaders. The Citadel consisted of high fortified walls built on a rocky platform, which is protected by the Muqattam Hills and dominated the cityscape of Cairo.

Salah El-Din (1138-1193), known in the west as Saladin, was a great figure in the history Muslims. He was born into a prominent Kurdish family, which on the night of his birth, moved to Aleppo in Syria. He was brought up in Damascus with a more desire for religious studies than military training. He joined the Muslim army as an officer and shared in many military expeditions. In 1169, the Fatimid dynasty, who ruled Egypt and Syria from 909-1171 were threatened by the Crusaders, who were then besieging Cairo. In an attempt to defend themselves, the Fatimid rulers asked the Syrian dynasty to come and help them. The Syrians army, led by Salah El-Din not only succeeded in driving the Crusaders from Egypt, but also defeated the Fatimid caliphate and established the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt.

Between 1169 and 1250 Saladin expanded his empire to include Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. The Ayyubid dynasty nonetheless enjoyed a prosperous period of relative peace and affluence. In 1182, Salah El-Din left Cairo to fight the crusaders in Syria. He was able to liberate Palestine from the Crusaders of England, France, Burgandy, Flanders, Sicily, and Austria. Salah El-Din never came back to Cairo until his death in 1193. Salah El-Din was buried in Damascus and his tomb is located near the Great mosque of Damascus.

Image credit Tomb of Saladin near the Great Mosque of Damascus  

To express his power in Cairo, Salah Al-Din built a citadel in the eastern part of the city. The Citadel of Cairo was built between 1176-1183 as a royal residence and military barracks, which would protect Saladin from the attack of the Crusaders. The Citadel consisted of high fortified walls built on a rocky platform, which is protected by the Muqattam Hills. To overcome the shortage of water in this hilly location, Saladin built an 85 meter-deep well, which is known as the ‘Will of Joseph’. The water was raised from the well and traveled to the Citadel on a series of aqueducts.

Image credit Exterior view for the walls and towers of the citadel    

Image credit Exterior view to the rocky platform of the citadel

Over a long history, the citadel of Cairo had played an important role as the seat of government for successive dynasties including, the Ayyubid, Mamluk, Ottoman, and Khedival rulers of Egypt from the 13th century to the 19th century. Throughout history, the citadel hosted number of distinctive structures including the 13th/14th centuries mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad from the Early Mamluk period. There is also the 16th century Mosque of Suliyman Pasha, which represents the first Ottoman-style mosques to be built within the walls of the citadel. In the 19th century, Muhammad Ali Basha, ruler of Egypt, built his masterpiece mosque which represented the optimum of the Ottoman architecture in Egypt. The mosque of Mohammed Ali, known as the Alabaster Mosque, includes a vast space covered by a dominant massive central dome, 52 meter high and number of half-domes. The courtyard of the mosque includes arches, domes, and a fountain pavilion for ablutions.

Image credit  Mosque of Mohammad Ali within the walls of the citadel of Cairo 

Within the wall of the Citadel, there are three important museums. The Archaeological Garden Museum exhibits number of statues and monuments from different periods. The War Museum includes military tools and dresses from Pharaohs times to the present. The Carriage Museum exhibits a collection of a 19th century horse-drawn carriages and wooden horses. There is no doubt that Saladin Citadel has been an impressive structure, which dominates the cityscape of the eastern part of Cairo.


1. Williams, Caroline. 2002. Islamic Monuments in Cairo: The Practical Guide. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 195.


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Comments (14)
Ranked #11 in Architecture

Mosques are very interesting and beautiful to me. Brilliant article about this monumental landmark and amazing feature on the history of Islamic architecture, thanks Sir.

Thank you Sir for your always appreciated comment

I love your articles.

Thank you Martin for your kindness, and your articles are always interesting and enjoyable

this looks like a very beautiful citadel, thanks so much for sharing it with us.

Thank you Brenda, your comment is appreciated

Wonderful share! Good job.

Ranked #10 in Architecture

A great hero in Muslim history. I was reminded of how he was portrayed in the film "Kingdom of Heaven". Well presented, Abdel.

a magnificent building of unique beauty the Saladin Citadel is! Thank you for the great share.

Incredible! What an amazing piece of crafstmanship!

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Superb insight into Islamic history and culture. I'm learning a lot from your articles.

Thank you Ann and Michael for your supportive comments. Appreciate

This is amazing work.

Excellent article. Loved it and enjoyed reading it. Voted you up.