Pros:Military Museum, Police Museum and Mosque are all impressive.
Cons:Too many vendors and tricksters.
The Bottom Line: The Citadel has several interesting attractions that are well worth the admission of less than ten dollars.
The Citadel is an ancient walled military garrison that is a city unto itself. When Saladin built the city, his original intent was to enclose all of Misr within the Citadel walls. The complex charges 50 LE admission, which works out to around nine dollars US at the current exchange rate. The Citadel is one of the earliest attractions around Cairo to open in the morning, with hours stretching from 8 AM until 6 PM in the Summer and until 5 PM in the Winter.
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My wife and I arrived early by taxi and were surprised that a large number of tour buses were already offloading visitors. The tour buses are permitted to enter through a different gate and bypass security. We were dropped off at the bottom of a steep hill several hundred feet from the admission gate. A security check-point was set up near the bottom of the hill, which we were required to pass through. Photography is allowed at The Citadel, so our cameras were not placed in storage.
After walking up the hill to the Bab-al Gabal entrance, we purchased our tickets for 50 LE each. We then passed through a secondary security screening before entering the walls of The Citadel. The security check-points only conduct cursory searches and do not back up...so passing the check-points was quick and painless.
After entering the inner walls of The Citadel we passed a snack shop and gift store as well as a Tourism Police Station before ascending the stairs up to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. When we entered the courtyard between the mosque and Muhammad Ali's Palace, we were practically accosted by vendors selling anything from ornate wallets to stuffed camel toys. The incredible commercialization outside the mosque also included a permanent gift shop. We attempted to enter the mosque but quickly realized we were at an exit and traffic was only allowed to flow one way.
This is where we learned a valuable lesson about the way things work in Egypt. A man inside the mosque told the security guard it was okay for us to come in through the exit and instructed us to remove our shoes. It was apparent that this was going to cost a tip, so I dug out a couple of LE and figured we could go about our business. No such luck...we had just opened ourselves up to the dreaded "Guide." This is a different breed from legitimate tour guides...they really don't know anything other than the language you speak and ways to separate you from your money.
Our "Guide" showed us to the tomb of Muhammad Ali and wanted to take our picture in front of the tomb. I really didn't want my picture in front of the tomb, but did take a picture of it. We were then escorted out to the courtyard and were shown an old well that was used for cleansing at the mosque. I attempted to part ways with our guide at that point but he was persistent. I mistakenly gave him more money for him to go away. The beautiful high ceilings in the mosque were something to behold. They reminded me a bit of the US Capitol rotunda. Humongous chandeliers fifty feet across hung from boat chains from the top of the ceiling which had to be equally as high. The Mosque was begun in 1830 and completed in 1857.
As we were leaving the mosque, we were rejoined by our "guide" who indicated he had something important to show us. Nothing important ever materialized. He took our picture with the fog of the city behind us (it was an overcast day, so there really wasn't anything behind us for him to be capturing on film). He then indicated we were in an area that visitors are not allowed because it is unstable, but that he "knows people" and it would be fine. He indicated that the damage still remained from a fire that happened several years ago. I didn't like where this was going.
Our guide then escorted us into the Gawharah Palace Museum, where prominent signs indicated that photography was not allowed. The guide took us halfway up a flight of stairs where photographs of Muhammad Ali's family were hung on the wall. I had no real interest in the photograph's but was urged to take a picture by my guide. My real Guide during my trip to Giza and Saqqarah had advised me that local "guides" will goad visitors into taking pictures in restricted areas and then blackmail them for money. I told my guide that I would not violate the rules whether he knew people or not and did not appreciate him telling me to do it. We were then escorted into a room where several photographs of the Pasha family adorned the walls. Another local guide explained the history for us and then went through a rude display with the "guide" who brought us in. I was very angry at the manipulation and embarrassed by the "show" the two put on. It ruined my experience at The Citadel even though I knew what was going on the whole time. The local guides are a royal pain in the ash and the Tourism Police should really do something to curb this rude unsolicited behavior. At times, I think the Police are complicit.
After the display at the Gawharah Palace, I needed to cool my heels. I was aggravated and my wife was crying from the stress caused by this "guide." After we collected ourselves, we proceeded to the Police Museum located beyond the Mosque of Muhammad Ali. The museum was tucked away in a quiet corner of the complex and provided some much needed isolation. The exhibits were surprisingly complex and engaging, although the museum as a whole was rather small. The exhibits demonstrated police investigations in Egypt from Pharaonic times to the present. It was interesting to see how ancient investigators ferreted out the truth in an assassination plot. Modern exhibits included serial killers and counterfeiting. The museum could use an update, but was enjoyable.
Our next destination was the Military Museum. One significant military date in Egypt is the 6th of October (when the Sinai was recaptured). This date is reflected throughout Cairo as well as having a prominent place in this museum. The museum also covers the struggle for independence. Like the Police Museum, the Military Museum takes visitors through time from Pharaonic exhibits to the present. The Military Museum charges one LE for visitors to bring cameras inside and allows photography as long as you pay the fee. One LE is equal to eighteen cents and is worth it just to keep the camera with you. I did end up taking a few pictures. King Tutankhamen's chariot was on display and a few of the other displays appealed to me as well. The Museum is deceptively large and has plenty of excellent displays that include ample history. It was on par with the Coptic Museum and was included in the 50 LE admission price for The Citadel.
One other attraction within The Citadel is the Mosque of an-Nasir Muhammed. This mosque was built in 1318. It was originally adorned in marble before the Ottoman's stripped it bare. I did not go into this mosque. It was Friday and I believe they were preparing for prayer when we passed by the entrance. Other attractions that I did not visit were the Mosque of Sulayman Pasha built in 1528, several towers, a carriage museum and garden museum. I spent about three hours roaming the grounds of The Citadel and still did not explore every nook. Three hours is enough to see and do most attractions within the walls, but if you want to take your time and see everything, allow for at least half a day.
Other than my unfortunate experiences with a local guide at The Citadel I found the attractions to be well laid out. There is plenty to see and do for the reasonable admission price. The Police and Military Museums are probably worth the admission price by themselves. The wall facing to the West provides a panoramic view of the city and would probably make for some outstanding photos on a clear day. The weather did not permit much visibility during my visit, but I did take a nice picture from above the Mosque of Ahmad al-Kathunda which was built in 1697 and lies just below the West Wall. It was an interesting visit in spite of the difficulties and one that I would highly recommend with a caution to avoid the locals and their dirty tricks.
Khan El Khalili Bazaar
Coptic Musuem in Cairo
Egyptian Musuem in Cairo
Radisson Blu, Cairo (Heliopolis)
Pyramids at Saqqarah, Egypt
Pyarmids and Sphinx at Giza
Best Suited For: Couples
Best Time to Travel Here: Anytime