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The night I arrived in Cairo it was after dark and we were in the taxi ride from hell, however I did open my eyes long enough for my soon-to-be husband to point out a huge castle as we drove by it. I had no idea there was a castle in Egypt. All anyone ever really talks about are the Pyramids and the Sphinx as well as all the other Pharaonic temples and monuments. Coming from the States, most things that are close to 300 years old (buildings such as churches and such) are really old. Here in Egypt you say 300 years is old and people laugh at you. It’s like a 10-year-old saying that they are old to a person who is over 100. I was in awe to say the least as I thought the only way I would ever see a castle would be to go to Europe.
The construction of the Citadel of Salah ad-Din was started by King Salah ad-Din in 1170 A.D, and completed by his brother, King El-Addel. It is located on a high hill that overlooks the old city of Cairo. Salah ad-Din was not only a great war leader but was very smart when it came to mathematics, science and many other subjects. My husband told me the story of how Salah ad-Din chose the location for this castle. Legend has it that Salah ad-Din chose the site for its healthy air. The story goes that he hung pieces of goat meat up in Cairo where he thought would be good places to build. In all the places the meat spoiled within a day, except for the Citadel area where it remained edible for many days.
The Muhammad Ali Pasha Masjid (mosque), located inside the walls of Salah ad-Din castle, was built as a monument to Pasha’s son, Tusun Pasha who was killed in 1816. The Masjid was built by the same architect who built the Yeni Masjid in Istanbul. No matter what direction you come into Cairo, you cannot miss this beautiful building.
The grounds of the castle are so beautiful with gardens plush with date palms, flowers and hedges. I was never really into history in school, reading about things you never expect to see or people who are long dead just didn’t do much for me, but walking where others who lived and walked thousands of years before just astounds me. Someone stood at the edge of the wall and looked over the same city, albeit smaller then, just as we did. The view is astounding and the constant breeze a cool relief in the summer heat.
It wasn’t until I was standing there at the edge of the wall looking at my new city that I realized how large Cairo is. Coming from Redding, where the population is growing so quickly, its numbers are incomparable with the over 20 million people who live in Cairo. You can see buildings like a sea for miles in every direction. On a clear day you can see the pyramids of Giza easily, unfortunately that day as you can see it was very hazy from the heat.
Along with the lush gardens, there are many statues of all the former rulers of Egypt from the first to the last. There is also what you would call an outside Military Museum that consists of jets and tanks and pieces of equipment used from ancient times, a catapult with stones, to missiles used today in times of war.
When we entered the actual palace I was expecting it to look like something from a movie, old furniture, beautiful and lavish in design and décor, but what I found is that the whole of the palace is a museum covering the history of Egypt from Pharaonic times travelling consecutively past Islamic times to modern day Cairo. Although I am not certain how and what they will do with all the pictures and statues of Mubarak. Where else can you walk through time for less than 10 dollars?
We went to see the castle in the middle of June which I wouldn’t recommend. If you ever decide to come to Egypt, let me tell you the best time to come is from late October until April. This allows you to travel around without having to worry about the high heat and also it is a great reprieve from winter in the States where the weather can be miserable and very cold. The cost to get into the castle is very cheap when you do the currency exchange. For a foreign tourist the price is 50 Egyptian pounds which is equal to around 8 US dollars.
Here are just a few more pictures we took. I definitely would encourage anyone coming to Egypt to take a day to visit this beautiful architectural wonder, its historical account of Egypt and more than importantly……. it’s exceptional view!
Robyn Payne (aka Asmaa Ahmed) was born in Weaverville, California, and was raised in Mountain Gate. She graduated from Central Valley High School in 1988 and has lived all over the country since then, but always ended up back in Redding. A year ago she left Redding once again and now lives in Ain Helwan, Egypt, just south of Cairo, with her Egyptian husband and his family. She’s always enjoyed writing stories and poems and is a “just for fun” photographer
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