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The Citadel Mosque, Saladin (Salah El Din), Ayyubid, Mamluk, Ottoman, Ottoman
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The Citadel: Cairo’s Historic Fortress:
Visitors can’t escape the captivating sight of an impressive outcropping of limestone crowning the Muqattam Hills -Cairo’s highest point- to form one of the most important tourist sites bejeweling the city’s skyline: “The Citadel” or as locally known “Al-Qalaa”. An Orthodox Sunni Muslim from Syria, named “Salah El Din” or “Saladin” originally founded the impressive structure in 1176, unifying Egypt’s two capitals (Al-Fustat and Al-Qahira) within its the walls. Historically, the Citadel was built to serve as both a fortress: to protect Egypt from the Crusaders’ threat, as well as a residence to Egypt’s rulers and their garrisons –which was its use for almost seven hundred years-. Today, visitors will be struck by the intense diversity enclosed within the Citadel’s walls, as its museums and mosques reflect a matchlessly diverse heritage, making it a key highlight of a visit to Cairo. So, make sure to pay a visit to the gateway of diverse history, architectural brilliance, but most importantly to one of the best places offering spectacular views over the bustling city of Cairo. The Citadel is divided into two vast enclosures (northern and southern), which involve a great deal of walking. So, be prepared by wearing comfortable shoes, and grab plenty of water while visiting (especially in summer) for your discovery trip to be a pleasant one.

Getting there and about:
The Citadel is located on Salah Salem’s Street, offering visitors arriving with either taxis, cars or buses a vast parking lot outside its entrance. Visitors, who enjoy walking, can ask their taxi to drop them off at Al-Qalaa square -Midan Al-Qalaa- connected to the Citadel through a 10 to15- minute walk. Walking is the best mode of discovering this area of Cairo, as it allows visitors to soak up magnificent details in surroundings, while connecting with the streets’ lively pulse. Starting off the discovery journey at Midan Al-Qalaa is a recommended delight, as the square embraces many historic sites, and renowned mosques, reflecting Cairo’s historic spirit. The Citadel is open daily from 8am to 4pm for only L.E 45 for adult foreigners, L.E. 20 for children and free for kids under six. If you plan on visiting the Citadel on a Friday, make sure you arrive after noon, as Friday prayers take place and ticket windows are usually closed during prayer time. Discovering the Citadel from within is done on foot, however, out-door cafes and kiosks selling soft drinks and snacks are available to rest during sunny days. Tour guides are also available as per tourists language request at the entrance, but it is highly recommended to settle on a price before starting your discovery journey to avoid any unwanted disputes. Women should note that a visit to the Citadel involves entering several mosques, and thus shoulders and legs should be properly covered as a sign of respect to the sacred places. However, long sleeved gowns are available at mosques’ entrance for free, which are worn in the mosque then handed back at the exit.

Historical Overview at a glance:
The Citadel has witnessed three main periods of history: Ayyubid (late 12th, early 13th Century), Mamluk (14th Century), and finally Ottoman under Mohamed Ali’s ruling in the 19th Century. The latter explains why the vast fortress embraces a matchless diversity of historic flavors. During 1169, the Crusaders stood as a dreadful threat to Egypt -precisely Islam-. And so, Egypt’s Fatimid Ruler urged Saladin to save Egypt and Islam from the disaster about to occur. Consequently, Saladin led his army to an aggressive battle against the Crusaders, and won to carve his name in history as the Islamic nation’s hero. Moreover, he seized the Fatimid Shi’i ruling of the country to again announce Egypt as a Sunni country (following Prophet Mohamed’s practices). Saladin started to construct the Citadel, as a hill fortification to protect Egypt against any external threat. To him, Al-Muqattam represented an ideal location, as building hill fortifications was the common tradition in his motherland Syria. In addition, the Muqqattam was Cairo’s sole natural site for fortifications built in warfare, enjoying a wide overview of the entire city to ensure security. The fortress was built in conjunction with Cairo’s surrounding walls, leading to the unification of Al -Fustat and Al-Qahira as a single city for the fist time in history. History tales that the Al Malik Al Kamil was the first to use the Citadel as a royal residence (1207-8), and ever since the Citadel became Egypt’s rulers’ residence. During the Mamluk period, Al Nasir Mohamed constructed three main structures: al-Ablaq Palace, which covered a vast area of the Citadel, the Hall of justice and Al Nasir Mohamed’s mosque. However, the mosque is all what survived from that period of history. Finally Mohamed Ali -known as the “founder of modern Egypt”- was the next Ottoman ruler to reside in the Citadel. He built many palaces within its walls, modernizing its overall character and spirit, and so, the royal family lived in the Citadel until 1874. Today, visitors can enjoy visiting Mohamed Ali’s mosque, which is an exact copy of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, reflecting Turkish influence in Egypt’s architecture.

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