Babylon Fortress

Babylon Fortress

Babylon Fortress is an ancient fortress in the Nile Delta, located in the area known today as Coptic Cairo. It lay in the former location of the Heliopolite Nome, upon the east bank of the Nile, at latitude 30°N, near the commencement of the Pharaonic Canal (also called Ptolemy’s Canal, Trajan’s Canal), from the Nile to the Red Sea.

At the boundary between Lower and Middle Egypt, the river craft paid its toll when ascending or descending the Nile. The Romans built a new fortress near the river with Roman red and white banded masonry. Diodorus ascribes the erection of the first fort to rebel Assyrian captives in the reign of Sesostris. Also, Ctesias dates it to the time of Semiramis. Still, Josephus attributes its structure to some Babylonian followers of Cambyses in 525 BC with greater probability.

The Coptic Museum, a convent, and several churches within the fortress’s enclosure are the Coptic Museum, including the Church of Saint George and the Hanging Church.

Location of Babylon Fortress

Babylon Fortress stands in Mar Gerges, Kom Ghorab, Old Cairo, Cairo Governorate.

Name Origin

Babylon has initially been the dominant city of Mesopotamia. According to Egyptologists, the ancient name of the modern Babylon area in Cairo is Kheriaha. However, Spiegelberg derives the current Babylon name from Perhabinon.

History of Babylon Fortress

Babylon lay northeast of Memphis, on the east bank of the Nile, at latitude 30° N, and near the commencement of the Canal of the Pharaohs connecting the Nile to the Red Sea. It was the boundary town between Lower and Middle Egypt, where the river craft paid toll when ascending or descending the Nile.

During an uprising, Babylonian prisoners established a stronghold between Memphis and Heliopolis on an elevation on the east bank of the Nile. Persians and Romans later garrisoned the fortress with their troops. Because of water delivery problems, the Roman Emperor Trajan relocated the fort to its present location nearer to the river. Since then, the Nile’s course has moved some 400 metres (440 yards) to the north.

Roman and Byzantine era

In the age of Augustus, 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. Ruins of the town and fortress are still visible a little to the north of Fostat or Old Cairo. Among the ruins are relics of the Great Aqueduct, mentioned by Strabo and the early Arabian topographers.

The town was the seat of a Christian bishopric, a suffragan of Leontopolis, the capital and metropolitan see of the Roman province of Augustamnica Secunda. The Eastern Orthodox Church recorded the names of several of its bishops. After the Council of Chalcedon (451), some accepted the council, but most were those who rejected it. No longer a residential bishopric, Babylon is today listed by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church as a titular see.

During the Eastern Roman Empire period, the city revolted against its emperor, Phocas.

Muslim conquest and early rule

During the Muslim conquest of Egypt, the Byzantine fortress held out for about seven months before finally falling in December 640 to the Arab general ‘Amr ibn al-‘As. John Bishop of Nikiû, in his Chronicle, which only survives in Ethiopic manuscripts, the history of this conquest and the subsequent rule of the Coptic Christian city by the Arabs.

Multi-Functional Structure

Aside from its ancient history and colossal size, Babylon Fortress had many more things. It had a very prosperous port, two kilometres and a canal which linked it with the Red Sea. In addition, the fort also worked as a refuge and a hiding place for the Coptic Christians, whom the Roman Christians persecuted.

Visiting The Fortress

Egyptians built the Babylon Fortress using the Roman methods of construction. In other words, this method was: a pattern of five blocks of limestone with three blocks of red bricks. These were all bound together with a mortar of sand, lime, pebbles and charcoal. Unfortunately, little remained from this megastructure. However, the parts that are still surviving are actually in relatively good condition. The remaining sections of this structure are close to some of Coptic Cairo’s most prominent buildings. These buildings were: the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church and Saint George Church.