If you are planning a visit to Egypt, it is quite likely that your journey will begin with a flight into Cairo, and perhaps even end there as you depart from the airport and head home. Now, if you plan on spending even a short time in the city, it is important to make the most of the experience. It is likely you’ve thought about the pyramids of the plateau and Giza and the famed Cairo Museum (also known as the Egyptian Museum of Cairo). Yet, consider the Citadel of Cairo, too.
Why? Well, imagine yourself standing high above the city. The breeze offers a bit of fresh cool air and you can take in the vast expanse stretching out in all directions. This is something possible from what is known as the Citadel of Cairo. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was built in the mid to late 12th century and renovated many times throughout the years. Originally constructed by Saladin or Salah al-Din to protect Cairo from the Crusaders, it actually united the cities of Cairo and Fustat. Built at the base of the Muqattam Hills, it was the ideal choice for defense and allowed the Citadel of Cairo to remain the government headquarters well into the 1800s.
Today, the Citadel of Cairo remains a stunning structure and sits at the city’s easternmost edge. It has three mosques, large terraces offering absolutely unprecedented views (including the pyramids at Giza when the skies are clear and humidity low), and several palaces. It also houses several museums.
The Modern Citadel Of Cairo
It has experienced a great deal of history and changed hands over the course of the centuries. From that of Saladin to the Mamluks and then the Ottomans, it was then taken by the French and then the Ottoman’s again. The British used it during World War II and then Egyptian soldiers. Today, however, it is more noted as a place for tourism and houses stunning sights ad experiences.
THE MUSEUMS TO EXPLORE AT THE CITADEL OF CAIRO
If you are a fan of museums, the Citadel of Cairo has a lot for you to enjoy. There is the Bijou Palace, also known as the Al-Gawhara Palace Museum. Created by Muhammad Ali Pasha in the early 1800s, it was a formal reception hall where the Pasha received guests. A massive chandelier hangs over the hall (a gift from Louis-Philippe of France), it is also architecturally stunning.
There is the Egyptian Military Museum which opened in the 1930s and features many artifacts from the Egyptian Army. There is also a fascinating Carriage Museum with many of King Farouk’s carriages as well as other impressive antiques from many periods in more modern Egyptian history.
THE STUNNING MOSQUES OF THE CITADEL OF CAIRO
Of course, many travel to the Citadel of Cairo simply to see the mosques, and in particular, the alabaster Mosque of Muhammad Ali. Constructed for many years (estimates say from the 1830s into the late 1850s) it is considered by many to be among the most stunning Mosques in the city, and the world. Sitting as it does at the very summit of the Citadel of Cairo, it is described as the most visible of the city’s many mosques. It is likely that it is one of your first sights in Cairo, too.
Muhammad Ali Pasha is buried in a tomb of Carrara marble found in the courtyard of the mosque. For those eager to learn the history of Islam in the city, this site is the ideal choice.
Another mosque is the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque dating to the 1300s and is a lesser known and infrequently visited site, but worth the time. It is considered to be remarkably well preserved, retaining many of its original features and elements, and is open to the public. There is also the Mosque of Sulayman Pasha, dating to the 1500s and described as an Ottoman style mosque
Should you just head to the Citadel and wander? If you want to make the most of your day spent in this area, it is best to work with a knowledgeable guide. Not only will they be able to customize your tour, but they will have all of the important answers to the many questions you are sure to have about this fascinating area of the city.
EXPLORING THE CITADEL
In fact, the Citadel is an ideal choice for those who also wish to do a wider exploration Cairo. For example, Old Cairo and the famed Khan El Khalili bazaar are all within easy reach of one another. A good tour or guide can help you to take in all of the most significant sites throughout these famed and historic destinations. They can even help you haggle for purchases, explain the history or cultural relevance of such sites and enhance the trip in general.
They can also make it far easier for you to navigate the traffic that is a key component of any time spent within the city. Just be sure you work with an experienced and licensed guide, as there are strict rules about who can and cannot offer guide services and tours in the country.
TIPS FOR A DAY AT THE CITADEL AND ITS SURROUNDINGS
One of the best words of advice for exploring the Citadel, apart from hiring a guide to meet you at your hotel or accommodation, is to start as early as you can. The daytime temperatures in Cairo can be quite warm and getting an early start lets you see the sights in great comfort and before the crowds arrive. Walking through the stone streets freely and easily can be a surprisingly delightful part of the experience.
Most visitors take a taxi to the Citadel and then make their way through their preferred destinations, finishing with the absolutely stunning Mohammad Ali Mosque. Don’t forget to make your way to one of the many terraces to capture an unforgettable image of yourself against the enormous city spreading out below. Cairo is an amazing place and the Citadel is one important part. Book a guided tour and get the most out of even a short time in this historic and ancient city.