Babylon Fortress

Babylon Fortress was an ancient fortress city or castle in the Delta of Egypt, located at Babylon in the area today known as Coptic Cairo. It was situated in the Heliopolite Nome, upon the right (eastern) bank of the Nile, at latitude 30°N, near the commencement of the Pharaonic Canal (also called Ptolemy's Canal and Trajan's Canal), from the Nile to the Red Sea. Coordinates: 30°0′22″N 31°13′47″E / 30.00611°N 31.22972°E / 30.00611; 31.22972

It was at the boundary between Lower and Middle Egypt, where the river craft paid tolls when ascending or descending the Nile. Diodorus ascribes the erection of the first fort to rebel Assyrian captives in the reign of Sesostris, and Ctesias (Persica) dates it to the time of Semiramis; but Josephus (l. c.), with greater probability, attributes its structure to some Babylonian followers of Cambyses, in 525 BC. The Romans built a new fortress with typically Roman red and white banded masonry nearer to the river.

The Fort of Babylon contains several of the Copts' oldest churches , which are built into or on its walls. These include El-Muallaqa (the Hanging Church) and the Greek Church of St. George. A number of other Coptic churches are nearby. The area is called Old, or Coptic Cairo (Masr el Atika), for this is indeed the oldest part of the city, and the remains of the fort are Cairo proper's oldest original structure. Indeed, Cairo owes its existence to this fort.

The fort is also known as Qasr el Shamee or the candles palace as the towers of the fort were adorned with illuminated candles at the beginning of every month, thus people could follow the movement of the sun from one tower to another. Six Coptic churches, a convent and the Coptic Museum are actually within the enclosure of the fortress..

The name

Babylon, according to historians, was originally the name of a capital city of a neighboring country known as Babylon, but another possibility links the name to the ancient Pr-Hapi-n-Iwnw (Nile house of Heliopolis) that was the deity Hapy's dwelling in Heliopoliscity. Hapy was the divinity of the Nile.


The ancient Egyptians were conscious almost from the start that this region, on the borders of Upper and Lower Egypt and originally two independent kingdoms, was the most strategic site in all of Egypt. Of course, ancient Memphis, which was just south of modern Cairo, existed from at least the beginning of the unification of the two kingdoms, and was considered the "balance of the Two Lands". Though various rulers at different times moved the capital of Egypt to different locations in Egypt, it always seems to have returned to this strategic location.

According to tradition, the first fort was built by the Persians in about the sixth century B.C., but at that time it was on the cliffs near the river. When the Romans took possession of Egypt, they used the old fort for a while, recognizing its strategic importance on the Nile, but because of problems of water delivery, the Roman Emperor Trajan relocated the fort to its present location, which at that time was nearer to the River. Since then, the Nile's course has moved some 400 metres (430 yards) to the north.

Roman era and later

In the age of Augustus the Deltaic Babylon became a town of some importance, and was the headquarters of the three legions which ensured the obedience of Egypt. In the Notitia Imperii, Babylon is mentioned as the quarters of Legio XIII Gemina. (It. Anton.; Georg. Ravenn. etc.) Ruins of the town and fortress are still visible a little to the north of Fostat or Old Cairo, among which are vestiges of the Great Aqueduct mentioned by Strabo and the early Arabian topographers. (Champollion, l'Egypte, ii. p. 33.)

During the Arab invasion of Egypt the fort was surrounded for about seven months before finally falling in April 641 to the Arab General 'Amr ibn al-'As.

Photographs of Babylon fortress