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The Citadel of Qaitbay - Alexandria Kremlin

21.09.2014 6:50 PM views: 2897 HISTORY Pavel V. Gusterin.
Pavel V. Gusterin. Center for Asia and the Middle East of The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS). Download PDF file

   Prior to Mongolian conquests, Baghdad was the main transit hub of caravan-sea trade of the Mediterranean countries and India. After devastation of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 under the leadership of Hulagu Khan (1256-1265) transit trade routes were laid through Egypt and then across the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Merchants from Venice, Genoa, Pisa and other Italian cities had their neighborhoods with churches, hospitals and warehouses of goods in Alexandria, Damietta (now Dumyat), Cairo and Rosetta (now Rashid). Venetian consuls in Alexandria influenced foreign policy of the Mamluk sultans governing Egypt that time, often acting as a mediator in conclusion of agreements with the Mediterranean countries of Europe.

   Venice and Alexandria have special historical connection. In 820, two Venetian merchants stole and removed of from Alexandria the relics of St. Mark, the Apostle of the 70 and the author of one of the Gospels, who became the founder of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria and its first bishop. At the time, Alexandria was part of the Baghdad caliphate ruled by the Muslim Abbasid dynasty (750-1258). The relics of the saint were removed from the country in a barrel with pork fat with correct expectation that Muslims will not touch “dirty” product. To store the relics of St. Mark, 5-domed Cathedral of San Marco was built in 829-832, and St. Mark became the patron saint of Venice.1

   Strengthening of Ottoman Turkey threatened sea power and Mediterranean trade of Egypt. Since the last quarter of the XVth century, the Mamluk sultans were engaged in wars with the Ottoman Turks in alliance with the Republic of Venice, which supplied firearms to Egypt, including cannonry.2

   On the shore of the Eastern harbor of Alexandria, an excellent fortified structure stands, an engineering monument of the XVth century. This is Qaitbay Citadel. It bears the name of its founder, Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf ad-Din Qa'it Bay (1468-1496) of the Mamluk dynasty of Burji (1382-1517), who in 1477 (884 according to the Muslim lunar calendar) ordered to build a citadel in Alexandria to protect the city and the Nile Delta from possible invasion of the Ottoman Turks from the sea.

   Discovery of a sea route around Africa and capture by the Portuguese of the most important ports on the way to India at the beginning of the XVIth century inflicted irreparable damage to transit trade of Egypt. Further economic weakening of Egypt facilitated conquest of the country by the Ottoman troops. In 1517, Alexandria, like the rest of Egypt, was captured by the Ottoman Turks, and the Turkish garrison was located in the fortress.

   During the period of the Ottoman rule, Alexandria was in decline. By the time of the French invasion to Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte, on July 1, 1798 Qaitbay has already begun losing its military significance and has not played any significant role in defense of the country.

   Great Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848) chose Alexandria to be the center of his reforms. His engineers managed to rebuild the fortress in accordance with military requirements of the XIXth century without harming its original splendor.

   On June 11, 1882 Qaitbay was bombed by the ships of the British Royal Navy, after which 70-year enslavement of Egypt began, this time – by a European power.

   During restoration of the fortress, the remains of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world were discovered – the famous Pharos lighthouse that stood for more than a thousand years, and was destroyed by an earthquake in 1326. Due to these remains, the location of this remarkable structure was precisely defined, as well as its height – 110 m. The lighthouse was located on the island of Pharos and shined very brightly.3

   Qaitbay is clearly visible from afar, from any point in the Eastern harbor of Alexandria, thanks to white stone, its main building material glistening in the sun. The fortress consists of two rows of walls connected by crossings, and separately located citadel. The entire complex is maintained in perfect condition. Walks in its towers, walls and corridors are a great joy to visitors, making great impressions. Dungeons of the fortress give a pleasant coolness, so visitors stay there for a short rest, sitting on old cannons. Views of modern Alexandria bordered by the timeless sea open from the eastern wall of the fortress.

References

  1. Forster Е.М. Alexandria: а history and a guide. 3rd ed. N.-Y., 1961;

  2. History of foreign Asia in the Middle Ages. [История стран зарубежной Азии в средние века] M., 1970, p. 376-378.

  3. Kalyoub S.A. The History & Civilization of Alexandria across the Ages. 3rd ed.

  4. Sokolov N.P. Education Venetian colonial empire. [Образование Венецианской колониальной империи]. Saratov, 1963.

  5. Vsevolozhskaya S.N. Venice. [Венеция] L., 1970.

1 Vsevolozhskaya S.N. Venice. [Венеция] L., 1970.

2 History of foreign Asia in the Middle Ages. [История стран зарубежной Азии в средние века] M., 1970, p. 376-378. See .: Sokolov N.P. Education Venetian colonial empire. [Образование Венецианской колониальной империи]. Saratov, 1963.

3 Forster Е.М. Alexandria: а history and a guide. 3rd ed. N.-Y., 1961; Kalyoub S.A. The History & Civilization of Alexandria across the Ages. 3rd ed.

Keywords Egypt, Qaitbay, Cairo, Alexandria, Baghdad
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