EGYPT – Islamic Cairo: the Citadel, Al-Azhar Park and Bab Zuweila Gate

Islamic Cairo is not a typical area in Cairo as the name would suggest. The term refers to a few places which together contain the most important Islamic structures in Cairo. To see all of Islamic Cairo you need more as just a day. I split Islamic Cairo into two separate day trips. In this article I take you to the old Citadel of Cairo, the Al-Azhar Park and the Bab Zuweila Gate. Read Islamic Cairo: The historical Muizz Street and Al-Rifai & Sultan Hassan Mosque to see the other places of interest. Join me on a tour through history in Islamic Cairo.

The Citadel of Islamic Cairo

The Cairo Citadel was first fortified by Saladin and therefore called the Saladin Cairo Citadel. It dates back to the medieval Islamic period, more exact the start of the 4th quarter of the 12th century. The citadel had two threats: crusaders and shortage of water.

Citadel wall

The wall built around the citadel kept the crusaders out. A well was constructed inside the citadel for the water but this wat not enough. Through a complex system of waterways water from the Nile was transported to the citadel to provide more water to its inhabitants. The well can be visited but during my visit that part of the citadel was closed for unknown reasons.

If you are visiting Cairo then make sure to read also:
EGYPT- Top 7 day trips in and from Cairo; a 9 day Egypt itinerary
EGYPT - Islamic Cairo: the Citadel, Al-Azhar Park and Bab Zuweila Gate

When you walk uphill you will pass the Muhammed Ali mosque which is the most beautiful of all in the citadel. Do not yet visit it but do this when you return back to the parking lot, it’s more efficient. First walk to the other side for a beautiful view over Islamic Cairo.

Police Museum

On this small square you find also the Police Museum which is worth a short visit (no photos allowed). Then it’s time to visit the well, if open, and through the gate to the military museum. You can see at the courtyard some airplanes used by the military. There are several guards on duty standing on most corners of the streets due to the tense political situation in the region. It’s however perfectly safe and they are very friendly. When you finished visiting the museums you can walk back to the Muhammed Ali Mosque.

EGYPT - Islamic Cairo: the Citadel, Al-Azhar Park and Bab Zuweila Gate

Muhammed Ali Mosque

The Muhammed Ali Mosque was built in the first half of the 19th century. It’s a beautiful example of an Ottoman mosque. It’s built on the top of the citadel. The courtyard is beautiful and the inside of the mosque has beautiful blue and gold decorated domes. As always on the floor there are red carpets with rectangular places for worship. You can exit through the back entrance which gives access to the beautiful fortification walls. From there it’s a short walk back to the parking lot.

Al-Azhar Park

The Al-Azhar Park in Cairo is a large urban park and amongst the best 60 in the world. It opened just a decade ago on the place of a former garbage belt at Al-Darassa hill. The cost of the construction was financed by one of the descendants of the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs who founded Cairo. His name is Aga Khan IV a rich businessman and imam. During the construction remains of an old city wall were found which are now integrated into the park. You will see a combination of traditional Islamic architecture combined with modern designs.

If you are visiting Cairo then make sure to read also:
EGYPT- Top 7 day trips in and from Cairo; a 9 day Egypt itinerary

The park is a nice retreat in Cairo away from the busy city life. I went there on an afternoon but I include it in this day article on Islamic Cairo as it’s the perfect place to go to after the citadel. Take some food and have a nice pick nick in the shade of one of the many trees. There are a lot of local people relaxing and kids playing on the playgrounds. It’s possible to take lunch in the restaurant too or buy something from the stalls you find throughout the park. No noise, lots of green and water streams make this a really enjoyable get-away from the center.

EGYPT - Islamic Cairo: the Citadel, Al-Azhar Park and Bab Zuweila Gate

Bab Zuweila Gate

Bab Zuweila was the southern gate of the second wall around Cairo. It was built at the end of the 11th century and consists of two towers, a gate and a platform. It used to have also catacombs for prisoners but these were destroyed by Sultan al-Muayyad. He was imprisoned there and destroyed them after he got free and became sultan of Egypt. At the place he built the Sultan al-Muayyad Mosque which is open for public to visit.

Sultan al-Muayyad Mosque

I climbed up one of the towers to have a view over old Islamic Cairo. In ancient time guards would be standing there looking for invaders coming from the south. The Bab Zuweila gate is for sure the most beautiful of the three remaining original gates. The other two, Bab Al-Futuh and Bab Al-Nasr, are possible to visit too but I skipped them as they are not as beautiful. Just opposite the gate, inside the city walls, there is a house open for visits. It’s the house with the beautiful decorated wooden screens on the corner of an alley. Don’t miss it as it gives insight in the beauty of these typical decorations. From the gate you can follow the street to see more of the local life of the Egyptians in Islamic Cairo.

EGYPT - Islamic Cairo: the Citadel, Al-Azhar Park and Bab Zuweila Gate

Cairo is the biggest city in Egypt and Islamic Cairo is too big to visit in a day. I will share with you in another article the other parts of Islamic Cairo. In the meantime enjoy my other articles of my 9 days in Cairo and if you want to know where to go for dinner check out my article on hotspots in Cairo to go for dinner. There is some delicious food out there.

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Gallery Islamic Cairo

Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.