Coinciding with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Egypt will be firing the centuries-old Midfaa Al-Iftar or Ramadan Cannon at Cairo's historic Salah El-Din citadel on Tuesday after 30 years of silence.
The cannon, last fired from the citadel in 1992, underwent a restoration programme as part of the country's plan to develop archaeological sites.
The cannon, which is fired every day throughout the month at sunrise and sunset to mark the beginning and end of the daily fast, has been tested by the ministry before the beginning of the holy month, the country's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said in a statement on Monday evening.
The tradition of firing Madfaa Al-Iftar, which no longer serves its original purpose of alerting people to start or break the fast, remains a beloved act for Egyptians.
Eman Zidan, assistant to the tourism minister for museums and archaeological site development, said the cannon is to be fired throughout the month to keep the archaeological heritage of the castle alive, but with the adoption of modern technology via launching a laser beam close by to the cannon to reach a far distance.
The tradition is believed to have begun in 1460 when Mamluk Sultan Khashqodom received a cannon as a gift from a German acquaintance.
Testing the cannon, the sultan’s soldiers fired it at sunset, coinciding exactly with the Maghreb call to prayer that marks the end of the day’s fast.
City inhabitants believed that this was the sultan’s way of alerting them that the time to break the fast had arrived.
Recognising the potential for boosting the sultan’s popularity, Muslim scholars and a handful of dignitaries visited him in his residence, where they suggested that the cannon be fired every day throughout the month to mark the beginning and end of the daily fast.
A competing story about the tradition’s origin casts Mohammad Ali — the nineteenth century founder of Egypt’s royal family — in the role of the fifteenth century Khashqodom.
According to this narrative, the cannon used to be fired from Cairo’s famous Citadel, with live ammunition, until 1859. However, when the city’s nearby areas became inhabited, they began using blank rounds instead.
Several other Islamic countries followed suit afterwards.