About the Citadel of Qaitbey
Not only a monument, the Qaitbay Citadel in Alexandria is a whole world of wonders, heritage, and marvelous architectural beauty. Although it appears like a small sand castle from any point in Alexandria, the Qaitbay Citadel is an impressive fortress which has become the most important landmark of the city of Alexandria.
Included in almost all tour packages to Alexandria, visiting the Qaitbay Citadel is enjoyable for tourists from all age groups. The visit to the Qaitbey Citadel also offers tourists spending their vacation in Egypt startling views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Geographical Location of the Qaitbay Citadel
The citadel is situated at the last point in the Western section of Alexandria, a location which was quite significant for the builder of this wonderful Islamic monument as it guarded the city against the threats of the crusaders in the 15th century and afterwards.
The Qaitbay Citadel was constructed with the use of the ruins of the ancient lighthouse that was constructed in the 3rd century AD by Ptolemy II. The lighthouse was damaged during the earthquake that occurred in Egypt in 1303 during the reign of the Mamluk king; Sultan Qalaun.
The Qaitbay Citadel is easy to reach and it is quite recommended for any tourists who explore Egypt to visit the citadel during their vacation in Alexandria. Many tour packages to Egypt today include a one or a half-day tour of Alexandria. Simply the traveler should go to the Kornish Street, the main rout in Alexandria, get the sea to his right hand side, drive all the way without turning or changing directions until he finds the citadel at the end of the road.
The History of the Qaitbay Citadel
In June 1477, after Sultan Qaitbay celebrated the birth of the Prophet Mohamed with his people, he went to visit Alexandria accompanied by many nobles, princes, and members of the his royal family.
Alexandria was wearing its finest robes to welcome the Sultan Qaitbey with large number of inhabitants holding colorful flags to greet the Sultan. This was a historical visit because it was the first visit of a Mamluk Sultan to Alexandria since for 150 years at the time. During his visit, Qaitbay explored the place of the collapsed Pharaohs Lighthouse and ordered his men to construct a fortified citadel in the same exact location.
The huge citadel was constructed in the period from the summer of 1477 and the building work took two years to be completed that the citadel was ready when Qaitbay officially opened it in 1479.
About Sultan Qaitbay
Qaitbay was one of the most important Mamluks who belonged to the Burji dynasty that ruled Egypt for a period that exceeded 150 years.
Al Ashraf Qaitbay, who ruled for more than 25 years in the period from 1468 till 1496, is considered to be the most important builder of this period with many monuments built around Egypt like the Madrassa and funerary complex in Cairo, his mosque in Fayoum, and many other monuments in Egypt. Nobody has ever imagined that this wonderful military complex would become the most important monument in Egypt visited by numerous tourists who spend their holidays in Egypt.
The Description of the Qaitbay Citadel
The Qaitbay Citadel was brilliantly designed in the square shape with its dimensions being 150 meters long and 130 meters wide. The Citadel has many towers, walls, and chambers.
There are actually the inner walls and the Outer walls. The Inner walls, which are shorter, consist of the barracks of the soldiers and the weapons’ storage rooms while the outer walls contain four large defensive walls in order to protect the Qaitbay Citadel completely against any threats.
The Eastern section of the outer walls overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the walls are two meters thick and eight meters high with no protection towers added. The Western section of the outer walls is the thickest among the four. With three colander shaped towers, this is considered the oldest surviving part of the citadel.
The Northern section overlooks the Eastern Harbor of Alexandria. It consists of two parts. The lower is a roofed passageway with many rooms that was used for tactical reasons during attacks while the upper part has a smaller passageway with narrower openings that were used by soldiers to protect the citadel.
The inner walls of the citadel were constructed using solid rocks. They surround the main tower from all directions except for the Northern section. Many rooms and chambers were constructed inside the inner walls of the Qaitbay Citadel to be used as barracks for the soldiers.
The main tower of the Qaitbay Citadel, the main structure of the complex, has a square shape as well with its dimensions being 30 meters long and 17 meters wide. This tower consists of three floors with cylinder shaped towers at the four corners of the main building which have some small windows carefully distributed to enable the soldiers to protect the citadel by throwing arrows.
The first floor of the citadel hosts the mosque of the citadel. Constructed in the Mamluk architectural style of Madrassa, or Islamic teachings schools. It consists of four small iwans, or galleries, an open courtyard, Sahn, in the middle, with its ground coated with the finest marble, and a wonderful ornamented Mihrab that is not pointing towards Mecca as the architecture who designed the citadel cared for the military usage of the complex as his most important priority. This mosque, situated inside the citadel, had a minaret that collapsed with time passing by.
The second floor of the Qaitbay Citadel consists of many passageways, a large number of small chambers and rooms, and larger halls, which were used for various purposes. Many travelers during their tours in Egypt love exploring the walls of the Qaitbey Citadel.
The Qaitbay Citadel throughout History
Since the Qaitbay Citadel is one of the most important establishments in Egypt, many kings and rulers of who ruled the country have given special attention to this amazing piece of Islamic architecture.
Beginning with Sultan El Ghory, the last Burji Mamluk to rule Egypt, from 1501 till 1516, as he renovated many sections of the citadel, provided the citadel with more weapons and soldiers, and renewed some parts that needed restorations.
When the Ottomans ruled Egypt, they took the citadel as an important stronghold for protecting the North coasts of Egypt. They added ranks and categories to the soldiers of the citadel and divided them into pedestrians, knights, and artilleries. Moreover, when the French army invaded Egypt in 1798, they took control of the citadel as their starting point to rule over Egypt.
Mohamed Ali, the builder of modern Egypt, recognized the importance of the citadel when he became the ruler of Egypt he resorted the walls of the citadel and added more modern canons in order to preserve this important part of the land of the Nile.
After the revolution of Ahmed Orabi in 1882, the city of Alexandria was exposed to sever booming by the British Army and this resulted in many cracks in the walls of the citadel which remained like this for more than 25 years.
In 1904, the Islamic monuments preserve committee made many renovations and restorations in the Qaitbay Citadel based on the studies carried out by the French scientists and scholars during their occupation of Egypt.
Today, the Qaitbay citadel has become one of the most popular historical sites in Alexandria which is often visited by Egyptians and travelers who enjoy their tours in Alexandria.