Cairo. She’s feisty, suffocating and exhausting but she’s also invigorating and inspiring. And sometimes it’s beyond me how she – with her layers and layers of people (22 million!!), buildings, cars and dust – manages to function. But she does and that’s half the beauty of the city. That it functions despite itself. From high atop the Saladin Citadel, the chaos of Cairo feels a bit more bearable. And it provides an expansive, and often hazy, view of the urban sprawl of the city.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I find the easiest way to get around is Uber. I almost never use Uber anywhere else. I’m also not sure how I feel about the company ethically, but Cairo isn’t always easy to navigate as a solo woman and I find using Uber makes me feel a little bit safer. I also prefer using the service because I don’t want to go on guided tours and Uber still gives me the relative freedom of going to and from places as I please. That being said, if you would prefer to visit the Citadel with a guide, the following service has come recommended:
- On the Go Tours (from $35)
If you decide to use a regular taxi service, most drivers will know where you want to go. Just ask them to take you to the Citadel or Saladin Citadel. Make sure the driver uses the meter and if they don’t turn it on, ask them too! Some drivers will say it doesn’t work and in that case you should either get out, haggle the price you are willing to pay, or prepare to pay a lot more than you should! (Again, this is why Uber is great – the prices are set!)
Entrance to the Citadel is 100 EGP ($6). Unlike many other sites in Cairo, you won’t have to pay to take your camera in for photos.
What to See at the Citadel
The Citadel was fortified between 1176 and 1183 CE to protect from the Crusaders and was the home of Egyptian rulers for 700 years. Here are a few must see spots within the Citadel Complex:
- Muhammad Ali Mosque sits at the summit of the Citadel and can be seen from many points in Cairo. Built in the mid-1800s, the Ottoman mosque is ornate and the main site at the Citadel. The courtyard is particularly BEAUTIFUL!
- Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque is an older mosque within the Citadel complex, built in the 1300s. It use to be the royal mosque of both the Citadel and Cairo itself, where the sultans of Cairo performed their Friday prayers. It’s located right by the Muhammad Ali Mosque.
- Sulayman Pasha Mosque was the first of the Citadels Ottoman mosques, built in the 1500s.
- View point: the citadel is the highest spot in Cairo and on a clear day you can see far across the sprawl of the city to the pyramids. The other mosque you see when looking out from the viewpoint is the Mosque of Sultan Hassan.
There are also a few museums – the Military Museum, the Police Museum and the Royal Carriages Museum – in the Citadel but they aren’t my type of museums to visit so I didn’t go to them.
Mosque Etiquette as a Non-Muslim
I always get SO nervous when going to any kind of religious sight, but especially mosques! Can I even enter as a woman? Do I take off my shoes? Should I cover my head? Am I allowed to take photos? I never want to do anything rude or offensive, so I often end up not going in at all!
Of course, as soon as I got to the Muhammad Ali Mosque, I unknowingly tried to enter through the exit door and had a million men running after me, followed by a lot of sign language, until I finally realized my blunder. Luckily on the other side of the mosque (clearly marked ENTRANCE, haha), there were two people telling everyone what to do.
You’ll need to be dressed modestly, with your legs and arms covered. But other than that, you just have to take off your shoes before entering. Many foreign woman didn’t cover their head, but quite a few people (including myself) did so anyways. I usually always carry a light scarf when traveling around the Middle East for this reason. And if you want to take photos inside the mosque, you can, but obviously be respectful of people that are there to pray.
TIP: Friday, usually just after noon, is the main congregational prayer for Muslims. Keep this in mind when visiting mosques in Cairo. Otherwise you’re free to go in and it is well worth it!