Wednesday, April 28, 2010

UNESCO Qalat al Guindi

Saladin (Salah ad-din al Ayyubi) the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty (1174-1260) is one of the greatest sovereigns in the history of Islam. 

In 1171, he managed to put an end to the Shiite Fatimid caliphate in Cairo (979-1171), to re-establish Sunnism in Egypt and obtained the investiture from the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. 

The al-Gundi citadel occupies a strategic position between Suez and Aqaba along a very important route which for centuries had been the land route for trade, pilgrimage and for military purposes and which connected the two gulfs (Suez and Aqaba). 

 It is built on a steep, 285 m high escarpment, difficult to climb especially on the northern and north-western side. 

It rises on a plateau which itself is 645 m above sea level. 
It was supplied with drinking water from the Ayn Sadr source which was at a distance of 5 km or through run-off waters (there was a small dam to the north) or through the big cisterns dug in the ground. 

The building material was basically limestone which was easy to work in the area and a kind of mortar, found near the run-off waters. 

A 5 to 6 m ditch separates it from the ravine whose shape it takes, that of an irregular rectangle. Extending from north-east to south-west over a lengh of between 100 and 150 m with a maximum width of 120 m, it is surrounded by a 2 m thick wall reinforced at regular intervals with square and round towers.

It is opened by a monumental square door crowned with a limestone archstone whose keystone bears an inscription in the name of Allah. 

There is another inscription in nashki which says:- the name of the founder: Salah ad-din Ab'l Mudhafar Yussuf Ibn Ayub Ibn Khalil, emir of the believers (Saladin)- the name of the builder: Ibrahim Ibn Abi Bahr and his son- date of building: Jumada II 538/1187-nature of the works: two towers, the door and the mosque.

A courtyard is surrounded by several halls to accommodate the guardians and other halls for service purposes. On the western side (20,5 m x 11,30 m) is a meeting room covered with vaults borne by pointed arches. There are two further prayer rooms, one in ruins and the other one relatively well preserved (12 m x 6 m) with a beautiful Mirhab niche enhanced with decorations, namely an epigraphy.

There are three underground cisterns; one to the west (6 m x 10 m x 5,5 m) dated by an inscription from the time of Saladin (Rajab 581/1189). 

These three cisterns are in a perfect state of conservation. In the light of the inscriptions on the monument, it seems that Saladin only tackled an old citadel and consolidated its north-western façade, especially the entrance flanked by two towers and added a mosque. 

The work is thought to have started with the mosque and its cistern in Rajab 581/1185 and to have been completed with the door and the two towers in Jumada II 583/1187. 

Qalat al Guindi became a UNESCO World Heritage Site of special cultural importance on the 1st November 1994.


  1. Why I still see the ruins? Can we put this structure up to its original state?
    Can we use open source CAD program(s) to see how the architecture used and what material was used to build this monument. Can we gather local university students of archiology to document everything as it is now. Post it onto the internet. Draw up a plan and restore the place back into its original architectural form using the freecycle method most of the stones from the ruins are there what is stopping you guys? Can we request UNESCO resources to help you in managing the project.

  2. Thats a great idea but unfortunately it seems the Egyptian Government are more interested in building blocks of apartments and hotels which no one uses or needs than preserving its ancient heritage.
    It's definitely something UNESCO should get involved in and I am sure there are students who would enjoy restoring/excavating this unique fortress.
    The persons I think to contact would be Cairo University, Al Azhar University as it is a religious site, and Zahi Hawass the famous archaeologist.
    It would be a great attraction for tourists who could visit on the way from Cairo to the Red Sea area of Sinai. Maybe local bedouin could get involved too.
    Thanks for your comment.
    I hope something can be done to preserve this amazing place.