Exploring the Wonders of Islamic Cairo: Saladin Citadel, Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, and Iconic Mosques

Islamic Cairo | Introduction

Islamic Cairo is a historic area in the center of Cairo, the capital of Egypt. It boasts many significant Islamic buildings and cultural heritage sites. Founded in 969, Islamic Cairo was the capital of the Fatimid Caliphate and later experienced the rule of the Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman empires. This area is rich in historical heritage, including mosques, tombs, schools, and markets, making it the best place to understand Egypt's Islamic culture.

Islamic Cairo | Trip Planning

There are quite a few attractions in Islamic Cairo, and you can plan a 1-2 day itinerary to explore them.

If you only plan to spend one day in Islamic Cairo, you can start your morning by visiting the Citadel of Saladin. Built in 1176, this fortress is one of Cairo's significant historical landmarks. Inside the Citadel, the Muhammad Ali Mosque is a must-see. In the afternoon, you can spend time at the Khan el-Khalili Market. After that, take a stroll to the Al-Azhar Mosque, which has been an important center of Islamic scholarship since 970. If you have more than one day, consider adding other famous attractions such as the Sultan Hassan Mosque, the Ibn Tulun Mosque, and the Museum of Islamic Art to your itinerary.

Islamic Cairo | Transportation & Important Notes

Most of the major attractions in the Islamic Cairo area are relatively close to each other and can be reached on foot. If you are staying in other parts of Cairo, the attractions in Islamic Cairo are quite far from the metro stations. It is recommended to take an Uber directly to the Islamic Cairo attractions.

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Islamic Cairo Day Tours

When visiting Islamic Cairo, it is important to be mindful of Islamic cultural customs. Dress modestly and avoid overly revealing clothing. Women, in particular, should dress conservatively and cover their bodies when entering mosques. Regardless of gender, you must remove your shoes before entering the prayer halls of mosques. It is recommended to carry your shoes by hand while exploring the interior.

History of the Islamic Dynasties in Egypt

When discussing Egypt's history, most people first think of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, pharaohs, and mummies. However, Egypt's history is not limited to ancient civilization. After the New Kingdom period of ancient Egypt, Egypt went through the Greco-Roman period and the Coptic era. After the seventh century, Egypt entered the Islamic era. In 640 AD, Arab Muslims conquered Egypt, marking the beginning of the Islamic period.

In 969, the Fatimid Caliphate established Cairo as its capital and built many magnificent mosques and schools, making Cairo an important center for Islamic scholarship and religion. After the Fatimid Caliphate, Saladin founded the Ayyubid dynasty in 1171. He not only established the Citadel of Saladin in Cairo but also significantly promoted cultural and scientific development. The subsequent Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517) further solidified Cairo's status as a cultural and economic hub of the Islamic world. Even during the 16th to 19th centuries, when Egypt was under Ottoman Turkish rule, Cairo remained a vital center for Islamic scholarship and culture. Islamic Cairo continued to see construction and renovation during the early period of the Muhammad Ali dynasty, starting in 1805.

Therefore, visiting the Islamic Cairo area is the best way to understand Egypt's rich Islamic cultural heritage and historical evolution. Each mosque, castle, and street here bears witness to Egypt's transformations, offering a profound appreciation of the depth of Egypt's history.

Islamic Cairo | Attractions

Must-see | Citadel of Saladin / قلعة صلاح الدين

Saladin's Castle, built in 1176, is an important fortification of Cairo, located on Mukatam Hill. The construction of the citadel was started in 1176 by Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, and completed in the middle of the 13th century, with the intention of protecting Cairo from the crusaders of the Eastern Conquest. Tickets can be purchased at the official websitePurchase on.

The Citadel of Saladin combines medieval Islamic architectural styles with military design, creating a magnificent complex with a large area. Many of the existing buildings are now used as museums, such as the National Military Museum, the Police Museum, and the Castle Prison. The citadel features tall walls, bastions, and impressive gates, and you can climb to the top for a panoramic view of the entire city of Cairo. Inside the citadel are several significant historical sites, including the famous Muhammad Ali Mosque. It is recommended to allocate at least 2-3 hours for your visit.

Must Visit | Muhammad Ali Mosque/ مسجد محمد علي

The Muhammad Ali Mosque is the most important mosque within the Citadel of Saladin. It was built by Muhammad Ali Pasha, the founder of the Muhammad Ali dynasty and regarded as the father of modern Egypt, between 1830 and 1848. The mosque also serves as Muhammad Ali's mausoleum, with his remains interred inside the mosque.

The design of the mosque was influenced by the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, featuring a spectacular dome and towering minarets. It is a quintessential example of Ottoman architecture and is often referred to as the "Aya Sofya of Cairo," serving as an important landmark in Cairo's skyline. The interior is lavishly decorated, primarily using marble and gilded materials. The mosque's pulpit (Minbar) and minarets (Minaret) are adorned with intricate carvings and inlays. The main prayer hall is spacious and bright, with enormous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, creating a solemn and sacred atmosphere.

Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque / مسجد الناصر محمد بن قلاوون

The Al-Nasir Mosque, located within the Citadel of Saladin in Cairo, is one of the most iconic Mamluk structures in the city. The mosque was built in 1318 by Al-Nasir Muhammad, an important sultan of the Mamluk dynasty. The Mamluk dynasty holds special historical significance as it was the only dynasty to rule Egypt after the rise of Islam that was led by Egyptians.

Compared to the nearby Muhammad Ali Mosque, the exterior of the Al-Nasir Mosque appears more modest. However, this mosque dates back much earlier, to the same period as medieval Europe. The building primarily uses red and white marble, featuring intricate geometric mosaic patterns and floral decorations. The colonnades are typical of Mamluk style, with dozens of towering columns supporting the impressive ceiling. The ceiling itself is covered with colorful wooden panels, and the patterns and colors are stunning. The arches and windows of the mosque are adorned with exquisite stone carvings and inlays, making its design far more ornate than its European medieval counterparts.

Sultan Hassan Mosque / مسجد السلطان حسن

The Sultan Hassan Mosque is one of Egypt's most magnificent and significant Islamic buildings. Constructed between 1356 and 1363 by Mamluk Sultan Hassan, the mosque occupies a vast area and is surrounded by towering walls. At the heart of the structure is the large prayer hall, featuring a massive central dome and four semi-domes.

islamic cairo, Islamic Cairo, Khan el-Khalili, Khalili Bazaar, Citadel of Saladin 16

Must Visit | Khan el-Khalili / خان الخليلي

The Khan el-Khalili Market is Cairo's oldest traditional market, established in 1382 during the Mamluk period, and it still retains its ancient architecture and traditional charm. Numerous narrow alleys are lined with a variety of shops selling handicrafts, spices, jewelry, fabrics, and antiques, all brimming with a sense of history. If you want to buy souvenirs here, don't forget to haggle.

Must-see | Al-Azhar Mosque / الجامع الأزهر

The Al-Azhar Mosque is one of the oldest and most important centers of Islamic scholarship and religion in Egypt and the world. It is very close to the Khan el-Khalili Market. Built in 970 by the founder of the Fatimid Caliphate, its name "Al-Azhar" means "the resplendent," symbolizing the brilliance and wisdom of Islam. The dress code at Al-Azhar Mosque is particularly strict; women who are not wearing a headscarf must wear the clothing provided free of charge on-site to cover their entire body.

The architectural style of Al-Azhar Mosque incorporates various Islamic architectural elements, featuring spacious courtyards, exquisite arches, and beautifully decorated domes. Al-Azhar Mosque is not only a place of worship but also the home of Al-Azhar University, the oldest continuously operating Islamic university in the world. Since the 11th century, Al-Azhar University has been a center of Islamic scholarship and education, attracting scholars and students from all over the world for study and research. The pristine atmosphere of the mosque is very sacred and solemn. In its corridors, you will often find numerous Islamic scholars seated on the ground, deeply engrossed in their studies.

Sultan Al-Mu'ayyad Mosque / مسجد السلطان المؤيد شيخ

The Sultan al-Mu'ayyad Mosque is located near the Khan el-Khalili Market in Cairo. This mosque was constructed between 1415 and 1420 during the Mamluk period. It was built on the site of a former prison, symbolizing a transition from darkness to light. The main entrance is adorned with magnificent stone carvings and Arabic calligraphy, showcasing the exquisite craftsmanship of the Mamluk era.

Bab Zuweila / باب زويلة

Bab Zuweila is one of Cairo's most famous gates, built in 1092 during the Fatimid Caliphate. Also located near the Khan el-Khalili Market, it is part of the southern wall of the old city and served as one of the main entrances to the ancient city. The gate is composed of two towering minarets, from which you can get a panoramic view of the entire city of Cairo. To this day, the gate remains a bustling thoroughfare for both people and vehicles.

Museum of Islamic Art /متحف الفن الإسلامي

The Museum of Islamic Art is one of the world's largest repositories of Islamic art, boasting an extensive collection that covers the history of Islamic art development from the 7th to the 19th centuries. The exhibits include exquisite ceramics, textiles such as carpets, tapestries, and clothing, wood-carved furniture and ornaments, metalwork, glassware, and Islamic calligraphy from various periods, ranging from the Fatimid Caliphate to the Muhammad Ali era. Additionally, the museum houses Islamic artworks from Iran, India, and other regions.

Further reading

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