We spent half a day visiting The Citadel, high on a hill above Cairo. It was built in the 12th century to defend the ancient city against Crusaders. Today it's home to mosques and museums and it offers a great view of the city. Cairo is known as the "City of 1,000 Mosques". Some say there are more than that, and in a city of 24 million people, the vast majority of whom are Muslim, it's not a surprising notion.
The catapult below hurled boulders over the wall to defend the city.
There were a number of trees like this on the grounds pruned with the inscription of "Allah" in Arabic.
This aqueduct which can be easily seen from The Citadel was constructed in the early 14th century to supply water to the old walled city. It's no longer functional, but it stands as a proud reminder of the medieval period.
El Naser Mohamed Ibn Qalawun Mosque
Built in 1318, Friday prayers are still conducted here.
The interior of the lovely dome.
The pattern in the rug is designed for each person to pray in the direction of Mecca. Prayers aren't offered in the courtyards of mosques; only within the walls.
Notice the lovely concave prayer niche below. The prayer niche always faces Mecca. The Imam climbs the steps of the pulpit to recite the prayers. The pulpit of this mosque is carved from ebony and ivory.
Close-up of the beautiful ebony and ivory carving.
The mosaics are also beautiful!
Mosque of Muhammad Ali
Built from 1830 to 1848, this mosque - also known as the Alabaster Mosque - is magnificent! Below are two of the four enormous pillars that support the dome.
The small table with the three steps is where the Imam sits to read from the Koran.
The dome is stunning!
Muslims must engage in a washing ritual before prayers. This structure in the courtyard of the Muhammad Ali Mosque was the first where water was delivered from the ground through small holes that functioned as a sort of fountain.
This clock was given to Egypt by the French King Louis Philippe in exchange for one of the obelisks of Luxor which now stands proudly at Place de la Concorde in Paris. The French made out in this deal as the clock has never worked but the obelisk still stands tall!
Ibn Tulun Mosque
The ibn Tulun mosque is located in central Cairo, outside the Citadel and is the oldest mosque in Egypt still in its original form. It is also Egypt's largest mosque. Construction began in 876 BC. The aerial photo below puts its size into perspective.
I love the haunting call to prayer and as luck would have it, we heard it while walking around the roof at Ibn Tulun.
Francis, our Egyptologist in Cairo told us that the original purpose of minarets was to enable people coming to the city from the countryside to see the mosques easily. Of course, now it's typically from the minaret that the Muezzin recites the call to prayer.
➜ Top Tips
It's not necessary for women to cover their head or shoulders to enter a mosque in Egypt, but shoes must be removed or covered by booties which can be purchased for a small fee.
There are several museums at the Citadel. We didn't have time to visit them, but you may want to schedule enough time to check out one or more.