The Fortress Of AL-Arish

A Monument to History's Tumultuous Tides

In the tapestry of Egypt’s rich history, the Fortress of El Arish stands as a solitary testament to the region’s storied past. Erected during the Mamluk era, this formidable structure is not just an architectural marvel but also a silent witness to the ebullience of history.

The Siege of El Arish: A Clash of Empires​

The fortress’s walls echo tales of a significant chapter in its history: the siege by French forces under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte. In a dramatic eleven-day siege, beginning February 19, 1799, the French forces clashed with the might of the Ottoman Empire.

A Battlefield of Titans​

The French army, numbering 2,160 soldiers, was led by General Jean Reynier. In stark contrast, the Ottoman forces, commanded by Abdullah Pasha, boasted over 15,000 soldiers. This disparity in numbers set the stage for a historic battle.

The Turning Tides of War​

The prelude to the siege saw Abdullah Pasha of Damascus, under the directive of Jezzar Pasha, secure Kalaat El Arish with 4,000 soldiers and 3 cannons. As the Ottoman forces fortified the village and its fortress, Reynier’s division, stationed at Katieh Fort, prepared for the impending conflict.

By February 8, 1799, the French had captured a Mamluk messenger revealing El Arish’s fall to Turkish control. Reynier immediately called for reinforcements from Bonaparte and positioned his forces strategically near El Arish. The ensuing battle saw fierce exchanges, with the French 85th demi-brigade capturing the village, forcing the Ottoman defenders into the fortress.

The toll of this initial encounter was heavy: the French suffered 200 fatalities and 300 wounded, while Ottoman losses included 500 killed, wounded, or captured.

The Blockade and Final Assault​

The main Ottoman forces took position on February 12, as Kleber’s division reached Kalaat El Arish, initiating a blockade. Reynier’s division, meanwhile, secured the Turkish camp after a successful assault.

The final siege of the fortress began in earnest on February 18-19, with French artillery fire battering the Turkish fortifications. By February 20, the French launched their decisive assault, culminating in the capture of the fort.

In the aftermath, Turkish losses were significant, with 400 killed or wounded. Remarkably, about 300 joined the French army, while others sought new lives as far afield as Great Britain, aided by British military commanders.

Legacy of the Fortress​

Today, the Fortress of El Arish stands as a poignant reminder of the tumultuous history that shaped this region. Its walls, scarred by the ravages of time and conflict, continue to tell a story of resilience, strategy, and the ever-changing course of human history. Visitors to this ancient monument are not just exploring a relic of the past; they are stepping into the pages of a history book, where the past breathes life into the present.

Created On March 18, 2020

Updated On January 24, 2024

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