Citadel Towers reopen

Tuesday 20 Feb 2024

The Al-Ramla and Al-Haddad Towers at the Cairo Citadel reopen after restoration launching Cairo City Break, reports Nevine El-Aref

Citadel Towers

 

 

Cairo’s Salaheddin Al-Ayoubi Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands proudly as a testament to Egypt’s rich cultural heritage and architectural marvels.

A significant milestone was achieved recently on its preservation journey with the restoration and reopening of the two iconic towers of Al-Ramla and Al-Haddad located at the northeastern corner of the eastern rampart of the Citadel in the area of the barracks.

The Al-Ramla and Al-Haddad Towers consist of three storeys and reach a height of 20.8 metres. Their ground plans are shaped like three-quarter circles. Constructed of stone with a rough surface and sunken cavities, both towers bear distinct features.

The Al-Haddad Tower is set apart from the Al-Ramla and the other towers by the presence of four saqatat, stone balconies projecting from the walls supported by stone brackets. These balconies lack floors and were meant to help defenders hurl flaming substances and boiling oil at enemies.

The oldest known example of this defensive strategy is found at the Citadel of Qaitbay in Alexandria.

Egypt’s Mameluke sultans utilised the Citadel towers and surrounding areas to accommodate their soldiers. The Circassian Mamelukes, also known as the Burji Mamelukes, displayed a keen interest in fortification works and tower construction, particularly focusing on both the Al-Ramla and Al-Haddad Towers.

The two towers, now restored, are today welcoming visitors. Since their construction during the 12th century CE, both towers have witnessed the passage of time and seen countless tales of triumphs and challenges. However, over the years these majestic structures had fallen into disrepair, threatened by neglect and environmental factors.

“The restoration work was carried out in collaboration with the facility management company that provides visitor services within the Citadel under the supervision of the Supreme Council of Antiquities [SCA],” said Mustafa Waziri, the SCA’s secretary-general.

He said that restorers and workmen have been consolidating, strengthening, cleaning and polishing the walls, stairs, and floors of the Towers, as well as installing guide rails to safeguard visitors. Signage relating to the history of both towers has been installed.

Ahmed Al-Shabouri, CEO of the Citadel Asset Management Company which provides facilities at the Citadel under the umbrella of Konouz Egypt Replica Treasures, explained that the development and operation of services within the Citadel began almost 15 months ago with the creation of a comprehensive master plan delineated into three phases.

These have included the restoration and enhancement of existing monumental edifices in collaboration with the SCA, the opening and introducing of a new archaeological section, the provision and operation of services, the organising of cultural and art events, and the enhancement of the overall tourist experience within the Citadel.

“The opening of both Towers in addition to the opening of the neighbouring Suleiman Pasha Al-Selehdar Mosque a few months ago and providing services in this area represent one of the main tourist experiences in the Citadel,” Al-Shabouri said, adding that landscaping work has also been done within the development of the facility management project at the Citadel.

All the passages have been resurfaced with pebbles that match the historical character of the Citadel, while a group of eco-friendly electric buses and carts has been provided to transport visitors within the different sites. Security and cleaning services have been upgraded.

More services are to be installed such as shaded seats and benches, informational and directional signs, and food trucks, shopping bazaars, and fine dining restaurants. Several visitor trails are to be created to provide Citadel visitors with different types of experiences.

“This endeavour aims to attract a new standard of visitors to the Citadel, which in its turn will augment economic revenues, extend the visiting hours of the Citadel, and align with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities strategic objective of augmenting tourist stays in Cairo and launching the Cairo City Break product,” Al-Shabouri said.

CITY BREAKS IN CAIRO: “The Cairo City Break product is to be launched next month during the International Tourism Bourse in Berlin,” said Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa.

He said that the ministry is currently working on developing this product to transform Cairo into a standalone tourist destination, where visitors will have the opportunity to explore many tourist and archaeological sites by offering six diverse and varied tourist experiences encompassing various historical and cultural places, whether Pharaonic, Coptic, or Islamic.

“This will contribute to increasing the number of tourist nights spent in Cairo from an average of three to four days to 12 days,” Issa said, highlighting that the development of the facilities management at the Citadel will help increase its visiting hours, which now do not exceed one hour.

“Our goal in the upcoming months is to extend the duration of Citadel tours from one hour to at least three, marking our initial step towards revitalising Cairo as a novel cultural tourism product, named the Cairo City Break,” Issa said.

He said that short city break products are among the fastest-growing tourist products globally, especially for tourists seeking short-term tourism programmes. They will witness growth in Egypt in the coming years, especially with the availability and integration of the three main components essential for this product offering: air travel through cooperation with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, more hotel facilities, and the development of an enhanced tourist experience.

“The growth in demand for this type of product requires growth in the number of hotel rooms in Cairo, where there are only about 30,000 at present,” Issa said. He called on the private sector to invest more in the hotel industry and to accelerate the pace of opening new hotel rooms, especially in the light of the unprecedented new incentives provided by the Government to encourage investment in hotels.

The Salaheddin Al-Ayoubi Citadel is one of the world’s largest mediaeval citadels and is also known as the Qalaat Al-Gabal (Citadel of the Mountain). It dates back to about 1176 CE, when construction began under the military commander Salaheddin Al-Ayoubi (Saladin) to be a royal residence and military barracks.

Over time, the Citadel was the seat of government for the Ayoubid, Mamluke, Ottoman, and Khedival rulers of Egypt from the 13th to the 19th centuries, and it has been reorganised and enlarged in six major stages. Among its extant monuments are the Mosque of Al-Nasser Mohamed from the early Bahri Mameluke period, the Mosque of Suleiman Pasha Al-Selehdar, first of the Citadel’s Ottoman-style mosques, and a rich chronological and stylistic spectrum of architecture, including the famous Mosque of Mohamed Ali Pasha.

 


* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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