Pharaoh’s Island Castle | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Pharaoh’s Island Castle

Cairo, Cairo Governorate, Egypt

Peta Stamper

09 Apr 2021

About Pharaoh’s Island Castle

Once occupied by the forces of the Crusaders, today Pharaoh’s Island contains the remains of an early medieval fortress. Today a number of operators offer tours to the island – located just 250m off the Egyptian coast – where the scenic ruins can still be explored.

Pharaoh’s Island Castle history

In the 11th century, under the order of Pope Urban II, Christians from all over Western Europe went on crusade to reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. Headed to Jerusalem, Baldwin I of Boulogne was part of the crusader army of his brother in the 1097. After power struggles among the Europeans, Baldwin was eventually crowned King of Jerusalem in 1100.

In 1116, he built the castle on Paraoh’s Island with granite rocks, noting it as a place of strategical importance. Pharaoh’s Island occupied a crossroads of trade and pilgrimage routes from Egypt towards Mecca. The fortress allowed the Christians to defend their jewel, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, defending Christians on the way to the Monastery of Saint Katherine while demanding ransoms from passing Muslim pilgrims. As it was built at the high point overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba, the castle was easily defendable.

However, the Muslim military forces of Saladin or Salah ad-Din – the first Sultan of the Middle East’s Ayyubid dynasty – captured the castle in around 1170. Saladin expanded the fortress, which was later also added to by the Mamelukes and Ottomans. The castle contained many small rooms, including sleep quarters for troops, bathhouses, a water reservoir, and kitchens with large ovens for baking bread, as well as pigeon towers for communications and circular towers for archers.

In the 1990s the castle saw massive restoration work.

Pharaoh’s Island Castle today

Visitors to Pharaoh’s Island must book in advance for the chance to explore the castle, otherwise you are restricted to viewing the fortress from your boat or the shore.

Also known as the Coral Island, the castle is surrounded by stunning coral reefs and snorkelling opportunities. After you have explored the medieval castle ruins be sure to paddle in the crystal clear water and soak up some sun.

Getting to Pharaoh’s Island Castle

Coming from Taba on the Israeli border, it is a 9 minute drive along the Nuweibaa – Taba Road to Pharaoh’s Island. Walking will take you an hour and a half, but it unadvisable because of Egypt’s hot weather. Otherwise you can arrange a boat trip from the local hotels.

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