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The Military Museum at the Citadel


The Military Museum at the Citadel

by Seif Kamel

The Military Museum at the Citadel in Cairo


Today, Egypt has become one of the most peace loving countries in the world, but it was not always like that. War has always played a critical role in Egyptian history. Since the pharaohs and up into modern times, Egypt has had to fight for different reasons. This is why one who is interested in Egyptian history should give extra attention to wars and weapons. In many cases they formulated and changed rules and the way people lived. And therefore, visiting the Military Museum in the Citadel is vital for anyone who is interested in Egyptian history, and especially the modern period, as well as the period of the crusades.

Rows of cannons leading up to the museum entrance

This was not the first time I have visited the Citadel. Yet, I never expected to find so many people there. It was a cold Sunday morning but the Citadel was full of tourists, families and school groups. Maybe this is why there was also a lot of security precautions, as no one could enter the Citadel without security checking their identity card. Upon finding the Military Museum, the first thing I noticed was the huge old gate used as the museum entrance. This gate is part of the old structure of the Citadel that must have been used in the defense against enemies, as it has small windows where soldiers once stood to fire their weapons. To the left

An ancient catapult near the Museum main entrance

of the gate there is a huge black cannon that was used during the Mohamed Ali period and which could probably still be fired today.

Upon entering the museum, one first sees one of the oldest weapons on display, a catapult. It was used at the beginning of the Islamic Period as a method of siege to throw huge rocks and balls of fires.

After the catapult, one finds a big corridor that reminded me of the Karnak Temple in Luxor where they have statues of sphinxes along the path. The difference is that there are cannons in

An Armstrong Canon near the actual entrance to the museum

the corridor at the military museum and at the end there is a huge statue of Ibrahim Pasha riding a horse and holding a gun as if he were in a battle. He was an Egyptian general who was the eldest son of Muhammad Ali and the governor of Egypt during the Ottoman Period.

At the entrance of the closed section of the museum, there are lots of real weapons that were used during past critical battles. They include weapons such as an Armstrong cannon that was used in the Second World War, along with some British weapons also used during World War II.

At last, a definitive portrayal of Menes :-)

After these weapons there are some statues of important figures in Egyptian history. There is a statue of Menes, the first leader who was able to unite lower and upper Egypt, though in fact we are really not too sure who Menes actually was or how he may have appeared. There is also the statue of Ahmose, the king leader who is credited with liberating Egypt from the Hyksos at the beginning of the New Kingdom. And of course there is also a statue of Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great, one of ancient Egypt's most famous rulers.

Once one enters the main part of the museum, the first thing one sees is one of the most important scenes in modern Egyptian warfare. It is a portrait of some Egyptian soldiers crossing the canal in the War of 1973. And to the left there are some statues of old Arab warriors with swords, which is probably meant to portray the soldiers in the modern era as being just as great and brave as the ones in the golden age of the Islamic Period.

Uniforms of Egyptian soldiers, probably during the late 1800s or early 1900s

The next section contains statues of soldiers wearing various uniforms and costumes from various eras. Here, one can see how drastically the uniforms worn by soldiers have changed over time, as well as the difference between summer and winter uniforms. There is also a section for helmets and how they transformed from the time of the pharaohs through modern times. The next section is where various cannons are on display. It begins with pictures of all the cannon commanders in the modern Egyptian army. Afterwards, there are displays of the oldest cannons in history, and then there is a huge panorama of all the cannons used in Egypt throughout time. These are really interesting displays that shows how these weapons developed and the battles where they played a vital role.

After the cannon section is the specific archaic Islamic section covering the period from 641 until 1517 AD. Here, one finds displays of towers used when they siege cities. Then, there are displays of the Islamic weapons. There are many swords, which was for many years the main weapon of the common Islamic soldiers. They were experts at using straight swords in battles. There are also displays of beautiful daggers.

Shield and battle axes from the Islamic era, which is also the era of the Crusades

The most interesting part of this section to me was the Mohamed Ali displays. which actually contained the displays for the entire Ottoman Period in Egypt. Mohamed Ali is credited with being a founder of the modern era in Egypt, and one can grasp from these displays how the weapons and even many aspects of Egyptian life improved during his reign.

The Golden Crown of Mohamed Ali

There are numerous statues of Mohamed Ali and his successors. However, to me, one of the most fascinating displays was the actual, huge golden crown worn by Mohamed Ali. The Sudanese section was very interesting as well. The history of Egypt has been entwined with that of at least the upper Sudan, also known as Nubia, throughout time.. This is because of the border they share, many common heritages and the Nile valley. This section has a very funny statue of a Sudanese soldier. The statue itself looks very brave and full of life. Other than that there are some daggers and other weapons used in the Sudan and the Sudanese Trumpet used to assemble the army.

The next section houses the pre-revolutionary displays. It shows how Egyptians fought for their freedom from the British occupation. There are many statues of the Egyptian nationalists who worked bravely to gain Egypt's freedom, such as Ahmed Orabi and Sa'ad Zaghlul.

Khedive Ismail's Lando Coach

There are also some nice portraits of critical moments during this period. The display I liked best was a huge statue of the Lando Coach of Khedive Ismail used to welcome foreign royalty to Egypt. The most interesting thing of this display is the lighting. The lighting technique for this display is well done, and seems to bring the vehicle to life.

Then there is the section specifically housing displays related to the 1952 Revolution. This was when a group of Army soldiers removed the king of Egypt and declared Egypt a republic. There are pictures and statues of these soldiers and some portraits of the conditions at the time.

Army officers planning the Egyptian revolution for independence

One member of this group of soldiers, Gamal Abdel Nasser, became the first president of modern Egypt, and there are displays related to his presidency, along with many weapons of that era.

Afterwards, there is a section with displays on the 1973 war with Israel. This section is full of pictures and portraits that show Egyptian bravery in that war. There is a large statue that depicts the leaders of Egypt, life size, organizing the war.

Not too sure about the authenticity of those hats

Just prior to leaving the museum, there is also a display of an ancient chariot with two soldiers firing arrows. It harks back to a simpler time when warfare was much more personal.

Outside the museum, similar to many other military museums, there are displays of real modern weapons that are too large for the museum's interior. An example of these is the Russian Mig 721 F 13 which the Egyptians used in the wars of 1967 and 1973. There is also a Sherman tank used by the Egyptians in 1948. There are a few other tanks and cannons used by the Egyptians during the last century. One item that seemed to stand out was an orange plane, which looked more like something one might find used in a flying circus rather than a modern war.

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Before leaving the museum, I had to greet Ibrahim Pasha on his horse because I felt he was waving to me. Many people visit the Citadel without ever even realizing that there is a military museum on the grounds, but it is certainly worth a visit.

A column of different tanks on display at the exit to the museum

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