The Citadel of Saladin
Built between 1176 and 1183CE the Citadel of Saladin stands on the highest point in Cairo, Mokattam Hills, giving it a superb view over the city. Salah Al Din (Saladin) decided to build it here to protect Cairo from any invaders, being part of a wall that surrounded the city and the nearby city of Fustat.
Being a fortress, it had to include a supply of water in case of siege, and the Citadel boasts a splendid well, ‘the Well of Joseph’, which is about 280 feet (85 metres) deep; and can still be seen today: because it also housed a spiral staircase, 300 stairs that wound around the well and shaft, it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Well of the Spiral’. Water that was raised from the well was distributed throughout the complex via a series of aqueducts. Al Nasir Muhammad decided, during his reign, that insufficient water was being supplied, so he built a series of water wheels along the Nile, which were connected to the aqueducts in the citadel. El Nasir is commemorated by a Mosque that bears his name.
On the highest point in the citadel, and therefore the highest point in Cairo, stands the Mosque of Mohamed Ali. Built between 1828 and 1848 this mosque is one of the ‘must see’ sites in the Citadel, and in the whole of Cairo. Mohamed Ali built it in memory of his second son, Yusun Pasha, who had died in 1816. Its massive structure dominates the skyline and it, along with its twin minarets, can be seen from any direction. Also known as the ‘Alabaster Mosque’. Its main dome, there are an additional four smaller and four semi-circular domes as well, is 68 feet (21 metres) in diameter, and the overall height of the entire building is 170 feet (52 metres). Hanging below the central dome, in the centre of the ceiling, is an enormous chandelier, which was donated by King Louis Philippe V of France. The mosque also boasts some 365 electric lamps: replacements for the outdated 19th century oil lamps.
As well as the mosques of Al Nasir and Mohamed Ali, there is also a third mosque within the Citadel: the 16th-century Mosque of Suleyman Pasha Al Khadim. It is located in the northern enclosure, close to the eastern end. Small in size it is a freestanding structure built within a large garden. It is a rectangular building, split equally between the prayer hall and courtyard.
In addition, the Citadel also houses some museums, including: the Al-Gawhara Palace Museum; the Carriage Museum; the Egyptian Military Museum; and the Egyptian Police Museum.