Standing proud above the hubbub of the modern city, the Cairo Citadel (Citadel of Saladin)) is one of Old Cairo’s most striking sights. First built by Saladin in the 12th century, during the Crusader conflicts, the fortress complex houses palaces, museums, and mosques, including Muhammad Ali’s 19th-century Alabaster Mosque.
There’s a significant charge to enter the Cairo Citadel, often known simply as the Citadel. Admission covers access to all the sights inside, including the Alabaster Mosque, the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque, the Suleiman Pasha Mosque, the Egyptian Military Museum, and the Carriage Museum.
Most travelers visit the Citadel as part of an Old Cairo tour, many of which include such Islamic Cairo highlights as the Khan Al-Khalili bazaar, the Sultan Hassan Mosque, and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun. Many also add Coptic Cairo signature sights, such as the Hanging Church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Cairo Citadel is a must for history buffs and architecture fans.
- Military-minded kids will love the cannons, planes, and tanks on display at the Egyptian Military Museum.
- On a clear day, views stretch across Cairo as far as the Giza pyramids.
- It’s possible to visit the Citadel in a wheelchair and look at the exteriors of the buildings. Most attractions are not accessible, and curbs generally lack ramps.
How to Get There
The Cairo Citadel stands atop Mokattam Hill in Old Cairo, about 3 miles (5 kilometers) southeast of Tahrir Square. It’s a long way from the nearest metro station, and Cairo’s bus network is hard to use unless you speak and read Arabic, so many travelers visit on a tour that includes transport.
When to Get There
The Citadel is open from morning to late afternoon seven days a week. Note that the mosques close for prayers at Friday lunchtime, and museums may not always be open. Visit outside the Islamic weekend (Friday and Saturday) for a less crowded experience, and avoid the main Islamic holidays.
Who Was Saladin Al-Ayubbi?
Born in Tikrit, in modern-day Iraq, Saladin Al-Ayubbi was a 12th-century Muslim general and political leader who founded the Ayubbid dynasty. He captured Jerusalem from Christian Crusaders, ruled justly and fairly, and enjoyed a chivalric rivalry with Richard the Lionheart, king of England. Many Middle Eastern Muslims still consider him a hero today.