by Jimmy Dunn
There are a number of forts in Egypt. The most famous of these is the Citadel in Cairo, but also notable is Fort Qaitbey in Alexandria, built on the location of the legendary Pharos Lighthouse. Probably the least known of the major forts is located on Pharaoh's Island in the Gulf of Aqba. This fortress would undoubtedly draw much larger crowds of tourists were it located in a more mainstream tourist destination, but tourists who make an effort to visit the fort will usually have the island mostly to themselves.
Pharaoh's Island, sometimes called Coral Island, or Geziret Faraun, is the location of a Crusader fortress originally built by Baldwin I, the King of Jerusalem. From the top of the fortress, one can see four countries, including Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Work apparently began on the fortress around 1116 AD. Baldwin built the Fortress for three reasons:
- It was in the center of a huge trade route between the far East and Europe.
- It was easily defendable, being out of range of land based catapults and was on high ground.
- It was in the narrowest section of the Gulf of Aqaba.
The castle was originally named Ile De Graye Castle. At various times while in Crusader hands, it was used to collect taxes on Arab merchants, and sometimes to attack Arab shipping, while at the same time protecting pilgrims traveling between Jerusalem and St. Catherine's Monastery. The fortification was, however, captured by Salah ad-Din in about 1170. Some reports indicate that he abandoned the fortress only a short time later, in about 1183, while other information seems to indicate that he expanded the fortress considerably and that it was possibly not abandoned until the 13th century. He did in fact probably expand the fortress considerably, and the Mamelukes and Ottomans probably further enhanced it.
The fortress, which is completely renovated, has many small rooms some with arched doorways and other without. These rooms included sleeping quarters for the troops, bath houses and kitchens with huge ovens . There are towers to house carrier pigeons, which were used for relaying messages in the Middle Ages and and circular towers for archers.Most of the business end of the fortress is on the eastern side, as the water was two restricted for attacks to have occurred on the mainland side.
It is also notable that Lawrence of Arabia made a somewhat daring and unauthorized visit to the Island during his Wilderness of Zin survey in June 1914. However, little else of the Fortress history is known. Obviously at least one important battle took place there, when Salah ad-Din took the Fortress from the Crusaders, but beyond that we really here of no major battles involving the fort. Some biblical scholars believe that the island was the biblical port of Etzion-Gaver.
Last Updated: June 9th, 2011