Citadel in El Quseir
- Written by Red Sea Bulletin
- Category: Heritage, History, Discovery
The Ministry of Antiquities and the Tourism Promotion Authority agreed to open an Ottoman-era fort in El Quseir to tourists. The fort was built in the Red Sea town in 1799 under Sultan Selim’s rule.
The castle was originally built by Sultan Selim I in 1517 to protect what was Egypt's most important port on the Red Sea. El Qusier means "the short" in Arabic and probably the town earned this name because it was the port allowing inland pilgrims to make the shortest journey possible from the Nile valley to Mecca.
El Quseir’s strategic importance derived from being located close to an ancient route from the Red Sea to the Luxor area via the Wadi el Hammamat. The twisting path cuts like a snake through the valley and into the mountains of Egypt's Eastern Desert.
Haj pilgrims would leave their camels and horses at the castle before embarking by ship for Mecca. The port also served as a vital entry point for Egypt's trade with Arabia and Asia and was a major trans-shipment point for the spice trade on the route to Europe.
It was in the late sixteenth century, at the same time the castle was built, that the town centre of El Quseir moved from its' original site, near the modern Movenpick hotel, to its' current location near the town’s harbor.
In 1799, the French, who had sent a military expedition to Egypt under the command of General Napoleon, seized the fort, built a tall viewing platform ( now rebuilt), widened the ramparts and added a number of cannon, some of which can still be seen. They also left a garrison of some one hundred soldiers.
In August of the same year, the fort's enhanced defenses withstood a three day assault by two British 32 gun frigates, HMS Daedalus and HMS Fox. However, before retreating, these two battleships caused major breaches to the walls, especially in the area close to the main entrance.
The British twice attempted landings in order to destroy the drinking wells of the city but were forced to withdraw in the face of heavy cannon and musket fire and lost one cannon in the surf which may subsequently have been added to the fort's own battery of guns.
In June 1801, the fort was finally abandoned by the French army when an army of some 6000 British and Indian soldiers, under General Baird, landed at El Quseir. This force then crossed the Eastern Desert in a ten day march at the height of summer to capture Qena on the Nile. A feat which helped to hasten the final surrender of French forces in September.
In 1816 the fort was used as a base for Muhammad Ali Pasha's wars against Arabia but after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, its' strategic significance was considerably diminished. However, it remained in use as a base for the Egyptian coast guard until 1975.
Today, at the main gate you can buy a ticket to view the fort open daily from 09.00 to 17.00 which gains you access to the entire citadel which includes several small exhibits of the area's history, shipbuilding, phosphate mining and Bedouin life and traditions.