I spent much of yesterday climbing all over the Citadel of Qaitbey in Alexandria, Egypt.
It was raised in 1477 on the foundations of the Lighthouse at Alexandria, which fell after two decades of earthquakes in the early 1300s. The stones of the lighthouse had been worked together with molten lead to withstand the pounding of the waves but not survive record earthquakes.
The Sultan ruling Egypt in the late 1400s used some of the stones of the late lighthouse, though I never saw their characteristic coloring.
When I visited England in 2003, I loved the medieval castles the best of all the sites we visited. That the most remarkable architecture and the most strenuous labor of that period went into building defenses tells me more about the security situation than any paragraph about struggles for political power. Some particularly clear examples of military-purposed design elements are the murder holes.
For the non-medieval military architecture nerds, murder holes are gaps in the ceiling above where invaders would be walking through which defenders could pour boiling water, hot oil, or in the case of a fort in Oman I visited, scalding date resin. The above is a hole which empties from the root onto the third floor. The one below emptied on the mosaic-and-marble-tiled entry-way:
Though I did not go down to where the castle met the sea, when I took a photo down this murder hole I could feel a whippingly-strong sea breeze coming out of it. Perhaps it lead to a secret passage to the ocean, it was where everyone emptied the privies, or maybe it was even a clever way to increase air circulation and to keep the smell of fish from driving the soldiers to distraction.
Are the narrow arrow-slits which are the only way to see the outside world through the inner-wall of the castle.
Some of the holes in the rock are quite big but none seemed to be harming the structural-integrity of the wall.
I’m taking a basic Geology course and loving it back at CMU. We learned that limestone is stone created by time melding together organic materials–generally the shells of sea creatures, broken pieces of coral, and occasionally in fresh, still water, leaves. I believe the stones used to construct this castle are limestone because:
- It’s on the ocean.
- It has the right dusty feel
- I found impressions of shells and some pieces of actual organic material:
I like history I can climb on. Museums are a great way to experience with my eyes and out of context what the past looks like, but I love to smell the same ocean those soldiers breathed, hoist myself onto the same battlements, walk the same floors. Even without its furnishings, I can learn something about the people who defended Egypt from marauders and empire-builders alike.
In the military Citadel of Qaitbey in Alexandria the architects chose to lay down smooth mosaic and marble spaces in to service of God and hospitality. Sounds like the same Egyptian values have weathered as well as the stones of this castle.
“Menelaus, there are some strangers come here, two men, who look like sons of Jove. What are we to do? Shall we take their horses out, or tell them to find friends elsewhere as they best can?”
Menelaus was very angry and said, “Eteoneus, son of Boethous, you never used to be a fool, but now you talk like a simpleton. Take their horses out, of course, and show the strangers in that they may have supper; you and I have stayed often enough at other people’s houses before we got back here, where heaven grant that we may rest in peace henceforward.”– Odyssey