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The Citadel

The Citadel One of Cairo's most popular tourist attractions is the Citadel which houses a number of museums, ancient mosques and other sites, located on a spur of limestone that had been detached from its parent Moqattam Hills by quarrying. 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.

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The Citadel

The Citadel One of Cairo's most popular tourist attractions is the Citadel which houses a number of museums, ancient mosques and other sites, located on a spur of limestone that had been detached from its parent Moqattam Hills by quarrying. 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.


The area where the Citadel is now located began it's life not as a great military base of operations, but as the "Dome of the Wind", a pavilion created in 810 by Hatim Ibn Hartama, who was then governor. Indeed this area was well known for its cool breeze. These early governors, not realizing its strategic importance, simply used the pavilion for its view of Cairo. Between 1176 and 1183, Salah ad-Din (Saladin to Westerners 1171-1193 AD), an Abbasid Ruler, fortified the area to protect it against attacks by the Crusaders, and since then, it has never been without a military garrison. Originally it served as both a fortress and a royal city.


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. But in reality this location provides a strategic advantage both to dominate Cairo and to defend outside attackers.  Salah ad-Din had come from Syria where each town had some sort of fortress to act as a stronghold for the local ruler so it was only natural that he would carry this custom to Egypt.


Salah ad-Din used the most modern fortress building techniques of that time to construct the original Citadel.  Great, round towers were build protruding from the walls so that defenders could direct flanking fire on those who might scale the walls. The walls themselves 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 occupants of the fortress with an inexhaustible supply of drinking water.  Some 87 meters (285 ft) deep, it was cut though solid rock down to the water table.  It is not simply a shaft.  There is a ramp large enough so that animals could descend into the well in order to power the machinery that lifted the water. Regrettably, the well is closed to tourists these days.

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