Name of Monument:

Damascus Citadel


Damascus, Syria

Date of Monument:

Hegira 599–610 / AD 1202–14

Architect(s) / master-builder(s):

Scholars have indicated the participation of Aleppine architects. There is also a signature of an unknown craftsman, Abu al-Wajd, found in a stucco decoration.

Period / Dynasty:



Al-Malik al-‘Adil Sayf al-Din Abu Bakr, ruler of Damascus and Cairo AH 592–615 / AD 1196–1218.


The Citadel functioned as a city within a city. It was founded by the Seljuqs in AH 469 / AD 1076, on the site of a former Roman castrum or military camp. Remains from both the Roman and the Seljuq fortresses still exist today, as do some of Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi (d. AH 569 / AD 1174) fortifications. The citadel was entirely rebuilt by al-Malik al-‘Adil Sayf al-Din Abu Bakr during the years AH 599–610 / AD 1202–14. Despite many subsequent changes and continued usage during the Mamluk, Ottoman and modern periods, the bulk of al-‘Adil's citadel is still intact.
The Citadel complex is near-rectangular, about 220 m x 150 m, and the northwestern corner of the Citadel walls curves inwards to accommodate the Barada River. Its vastness is indiscernible from the outside due to its location amidst Suq al-Hamidiyya. The Citadel's north and west walls originally would have looked out on to open countryside, while the south and east walls overlook the city.
The different phases of the Citadel's fortification may be recognised by the quality of the masonry. Most easily discernable are al-Malik al-‘Adil's refortifications. He completely redressed the original Seljuq walls with larger Roman stones, probably spolia from the ancient Temple of Jupiter nearby. New Ayyubid towers (burgs) were built outside the perimeters of the old Seljuq ones, and a gallery between the two was maintained for communication purposes. This process of Ayyubid expansion upon Seljuq-period fortifications can be seen at numerous other Syrian citadels, such as those at Bosra and Aleppo.
The Damascus Citadel is renowned for its numerous burgs, a total of 16 or 17, of which 12 survive. There are four gates, one on each side, and each with a smaller postern gate nearby. The most strategically located point was the northern gate. Its three surrounding burgs, steel-bar gate, non-direct entry passageway and draw-bridge across the moat emphasise its defensive character. Meanwhile, the eastern gate is the most artistically magnificent, as it was the formal entry into the Citadel. It displays the first stone muqarnas portal in Damascus, copiously inscribed and beautifully painted. Restorers have been able to reveal a repertoire of decorative motifs on the muqarnas cells, including painting from the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman eras.
The stone muqarnas portal leads to a nine-vaulted hall often thought to be a throne room. It is a square area with a central cupola mounted on thick pillars with Roman-period capitals. Whether it is related to the Ayyubid palatial residence is yet to be established, as important excavations of the site are still underway.
Like other citadels of the period, the Citadel of Damascus was both a residence of the ruling elite and a site of Crusader warfare, as witnessed during the siege of Damascus in AH 542 / AD 1148. In general, the architectural style and fine masonry techniques reflect important Aleppine influences.

View Short Description

The Citadel marks the northwestern corner of the old city. Its dimensions are vast, approximately 220 m x 150 m, and its major refortifications were undertaken by the Ayyubid ruler Al-Malik al-‘Adil during the years AH 599–610 / AD 1202–14. The most militarily strategic point is the northern gate, known as the 'Gate of Steel' and protected by a draw-bridge, three towers, and a non-direct entry passage. The most ornamental gate is the eastern gate, which features fine masonry, inscriptions and even paintings. Recent excavations have revealed a medieval metalsmithy for forging weapons in the Citadel's southwest quarter.

How Monument was dated:

The monument is dated by an inscription found on the northern tower, dated 610 (1213–14).

Selected bibliography:

Allen, T., “Ayyubid Architecture”, Occidental (electronic publication 7th edition), 2003.
Gardiol, J.-Bl., "Le Palais ayyoubide de la citadelle de Damas: Premières données archéologiques et nouvelles observations", Bulletin d'études orientales, Supplément Citadelle de Damas, vol. 53-54, Damas, 2002, pp. 47-58.
Hanisch, H., Die ayyubidischen Toranlagen der Zitadelle von Damascus, Wiesbaden, 1996.
Sauvaget, J., "La citadelle de Damas", Syria, 1930, pp.59–90, pp.215–41.

Citation of this web page:

Abd al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine "Damascus Citadel" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021.;ISL;sy;Mon01;7;en

Prepared by: Abd Al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: SY 11