Citadel Of Qaitbay – A Centuries Old Islamic Fortress

Citadel of Qaitbay is a 15th century Islamic fortress built to protect the city from invading Crusaders. Today it is one of the most popular Alexandria tourist attractions. The Qaitbay Citadel is located on the northeast part of Pharos Island, on the exact spot that was once home to the famous lighthouse of Alexandra. The Citadel was original established by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay in 1544 as a fortress.

Citadel Of Qaitbay in Alexandria, Egypt

Citadel Of Qaitbay in Alexandria seen from the Northern Harbour.

The original structure was further fortified towards the end of the 15th century to make it more capable of protecting the city against the Turks who at the time were threatening to invade. Many historians consider it to have been one of the most strategically important strongholds along the entire Mediterranean coastline at the time.

The citadel continued to act as a military stronghold throughout the Mameluke period as well as the Ottoman period, and also for most of the Modern period.

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The Citadel Of Qaitbay And The Ottoman Invasion

Citadel of Qaitbay, Alexandria

Citadel of Qaitbay up close, Alexandria.

Later during the reign of The Sultan Qansoh El-Ghoury, the threat of an Ottoman invasion became ever more likely, and Sultan Qansoh El-Ghoury began moving troops and weapons to the citadel in order to be prepared for battle. During this time, the Sultan also had a prison constructed in the Citadel of Qaitbay.

The Sultan would regularly travel to the citadel with other princes of the time in order to watch and troops being trained on how to use the weapons he had sent there. When he later felt that the Turks were about to attack, he issued a military decree in order to prevent anything from being stolen from within the grounds of the citadel.

The decree stated that if anyone was caught stealing weapons; ammunition or anything other object from the citadel, they would be sentenced to death. Those found guilty would be hanged at the tower gate. Despite an immense effort, the Turks did attack and were able to invade Egypt.

However, like other citadels that fell into their hands, the Citadel of Qaitbay was well maintained and actively used throughout their rule.

Alexandria Falls To The French And Then The British

By 1748 the strength of the Ottoman armies had deteriorated significantly and the French were able to seize control of the citadel with relative ease. With a weak military and a weakened garrison at the fort, the heavy weapons of the French were simply too much for the Turks.

Interestingly, when French troops entered the citadel they found Crusader weapons dating all the way back to the time of King Louis IX.

Alexandria eventually fell to the British following a heavy bombardment in 1848, and the once well maintained Citadel of Qaitbay was left to fall into a state of disrepair. It remained neglected until the 20th century.

Modern Day Restoration Of The Citadel of Qaitbay

Corridors of the Qaitbay Citadel in Alexandria, Egypt

Corridors of the Qaitbay Citadel in Alexandria, Egypt.

In 1904 King Farouk of Egypt decided he wanted the fortress to be converted into a rest house for royalty, and subsequently issued orders to have it restored immediately. The Ministry of Defense were tasked with overseeing a rapid restoration project, and within a very short space of time all the upper floors had been fully restored.

Following the 1952 Egyptian revolution, the Citadel was further restored by the Egyptian navy, and later converted into a maritime museum. In 1984 the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities launched an ambitious restoration project which took several years to complete, with the end result being what visitors to the Citadel of Qaitbay see today.

Learn more about the history of the citadel here.

Most Egypt tour packages that include spending time in Alexandria will include a visit to the Citadel of Qaitbay, but it is something you should still confirm when making your tour reservation.

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