CAIRO - 8 April 2019: The Gates of Cairo were gates at portals in the city walls of medieval Islamic Cairo.
The city of Cairo was founded in 969 CE by Gawhar al-Siqilli, as the new royal city of the Fatimid Caliphate, with a defensive wall.
In 1092, the Fatimids built a second wall around Cairo. The double walled city had a significant number of fortified gates at the portals protecting both the inner and outer city areas.
The primary purpose was defense, but they also differentiated the various social and economic classes' districts and movements. Many gate surrounds were carved artistic elements and embellished decorative features, representing the ruler's and city's victories, power, faith, and influence.
The gates were influenced by the designs of gates that the Fatimids had built in Tunisia, most prominently the main gate to Mahdia.
City gates were traditionally built to provide a point of controlled access to and departure from a walled city for people, vehicles, goods and animals. Depending on their historical context they filled functions relating to defense, security, health, trade, taxation, and representation, and were correspondingly staffed by military or municipal authorities.
The city gate was also commonly used to display diverse kinds of public information such as announcements, tax and toll schedules, standards of local measures, and legal texts. It could be heavily fortified, ornamented with heraldic shields, sculpture or inscriptions, or used as a location for warning or intimidation, for example by displaying the heads of beheaded criminals or public enemies.
In one form or another, city gates can be found across the world in cities dating back to ancient times to around the 19th century. Many cities would close their gates after a certain curfew each night.
With increased stability and freedom, many walled cities removed such fortifications, although many still survive; albeit for historic interest rather than security.
Entrance to Fatimid Cairo through Bab Zeweila; one of the old city gates. Photo Courtesy Enas El Masry
Many surviving gates have been heavily restored, rebuilt or new ones created to add to the appearance of a city, such as Bab Bou Jalous in Fes. With increased levels of traffic, city gates have come under threat in the past for impeding the flow of traffic, such as Temple Bar in London which was removed in the 19th century.
Islamic Cairo AKA (Qahirat al-Moez) is a part of central Cairo around the old walled city and around the Citadel of Cairo; which is characterized by hundreds of mosques, tombs, madrasas, mansions, caravanserais, and fortifications dating from the Islamic era.
Bab al-Fotouh (Gate of the Conquests), one of the surviving gates on the old city walls. Photo Courtesy Enas El Masry
In 1979, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed Historic Cairo a World Cultural Heritage site, as "one of the world's oldest Islamic cities, with its famous mosques, madrasas, hammams and fountains" and "the new centre of the Islamic world, reaching its golden age in the 14th century.
Stay tuned for more about Islamic Cairo next week.