The towers Citadel of Salah al-Din Ayyubi

The Towers Citadel of Salah al-Din Ayyubi

The Citadel of Sultan Salah al-Din Ayyub was constructed on a spur of the Muqattam mountain as a defense against any invasion. It is divided into two sections; northern enclosure, an area reserved for military activities. Salah al-Din commenced its construction in AH 572 / AD 1176 and work was continued by his brother and successor king al-Adil. The southern enclosure of the citadel, which had more ceremonial and residential functions was completed during the reign of Salah al-Din’s nephew, king al-Kamil. It consists of a cluster of buildings surrounded by walls that follow the irregular topography of the site with towers and doors. These massive walls and towers were constructed with limestone.

Most of the towers of the Citadel of Salah al-Din are situated in its northern enclosure. 18 tower some of which built during the reign of Salah al-Din are distinguishable by their semicircular shape, often enlarged in their diameter by al-Adil. Towers built entirely during the reign of al-Adil are rectilinear in plan. Within the towers are rooms on multiple levels that lead to perimeter embrasures for discharging arrows upon potential beseigers. Among these towers are al-Muqattam tower, Burg al-Suffa (‘Alignment’ Tower), Kirkilian tower, al-Turfa tower, Burg al-Muballat (‘Paved’ Tower), Burg al-Muqusar (‘Pavilion’ Tower), Burg al-Ramla (‘Sand’ Tower), Burg al-Haddad (Blacksmith’s Tower), Burg al-Matar (‘Flight’ Tower used for pigeons), Burg al-Alwa (‘View’ Tower) and the Burg al-Sahra (‘Desert’ Tower). In addition, two towers named al-Imam flank the Bab al-Qarafa (Cemetery Gate).

Restorations and additions to the northern enclosure and its towers’ continued in later eras beginning with the Mamluk Sultanate, and ending in the reign of Muhammad Ali and his dynasty. Military use of the area continued during the British occupation of Egypt. By the 80th of the 20th century, that area was opened to the public and developed as an archaeological garden and venue for cultural events.

Burg al-Haddad

The Burg al-Haddad (Blacksmith’s Tower) is one of the most famous towers of Salah al-Din’s citadel (AH 567-589 / AD 1171-1193) and stands adjacent to al-Ramla Tower (‘Sand’ Tower), whose design it superficially resembles. The tower is built of limestone with a diameter of 22 metres and a height of 21.70 metres. It was originally built in a semicircular shape which was changed to a round-fronted design by an addition made by the Sultan al-Adil (AH 596-615 / AD 1200-1218).

The tower has two floors and the original interior plan of Salah al-Din consisted of a central groin-vaulted space with three embrasures leading to arrow slits. These arrow slits were converted into doorways by Sultan al-Adil that led to a semi-circular curving corridor from which five further rectangular vaulted halls radiated to the exterior of the tower on both the ground and upper floors. The exterior walls have Machi coulis – projecting windows from which liquids such as burning oil could be thrown on attackers from above.

Burg al-Ramla

Burg al-Ramla (the ‘Sand Tower’) is a corner tower located at the junction of the eastern and northern sides of the citadel’s enclosure wall. Baha al-Din Qaraqush supervised its construction during the reign of Sultan Salah al-Din Ayyub (AH 567-589 / AD1171-1193).

The tower is 20.80 metres high, and is built of limestone to a circular plan eighteen metres in diameter. It has two floors, each floor consisting of a central hall with three radiating vaulted chambers extending to the perimeter. Each chamber has a splayed narrow window embrasure through which weapons could be discharged.

During the reign of Sultan al-Adil (AH 596-615 / AD1200-1218) the tower was expanded, and the window embrasures of each of the three radiating chambers were converted into door openings leading to rectangular vaulted rooms that ended in arrow slits. A corridor within the curtain wall of the enclosure connects the Burg al-Ramla with its immediate neighbour, the Burg al-Haddad (the ‘Blacksmith’s Tower’).

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