Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 July 2008
Issue No. 906
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

A SUNSET stroll on the Corniche enjoying a locally made vanilla ice cream is one of life's most indulging delights. Enjoy the refreshing taste and scenic promenade as Mohamed El-Hebeishy heads towards the Citadel.

His name in full is Al-Ashraf Abul- Nasr Seifeddin Qait Bay Al-Jekasi Al-Zahiri, better known as Sultan Qait Bay. Originally a Circassian (driven from the Turkic word Cherkess, referring to people from northwest Caucasus) he was bought for 50 dinars by the ninth Burji Mameluke Sultan Barsbay. A few years later, he was set free by the 11th Sultan Jaqmaq. Qait Bay was renowned as a great patron of art and architecture during his 29-year reign. He is best remembered for the spectacular building he left -- Qait Bay Citadel.

The citadel is one of the most prominent monuments in Alexandria. Built on Pharos Island where the Great Lighthouse once stood, and one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the colossal lighthouse was 115-135m high and its square base was spacious enough to accommodate 300 rooms. Nonetheless, the edifice came down in ruins after two major earthquakes hit the city in 1303 and 1323 AD. In 1477 AD, Sultan Qait Bay ordered the building of his fort on the exact same location as the Great Lighthouse, and actually using some of its remaining masonry.

Situated at the entrance of the eastern harbour, the citadel played a pivotal role in protecting Alexandria. Gaining military importance, it received the attention and financial support of several of Egypt's rulers and sovereigns. After facing a period of decline, Mohamed Ali Pasha completely renovated the fort during his rule, arming it with modern gunpowder-based weapons. Qait Bay Citadel was heavily bombarded by the British navy on 11 July 1882 leaving the fort cracked with whole façades completely destroyed. Though several restoration efforts took place, with the first kicking off in 1904, it wasn't before 1984 when Qait Bay Citadel was fully restored.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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