About An Nakhel Fortress

The Fortress of an-Nekhel is a Ksar (castle) located in the Nekhel Municipality of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. It holds a strategic location at the exact center of the peninsula. Excavations at the site have revealed remains dating from Ancient Egypt. It has historically been an important stop and staging ground for Muslim pilgrims undertaking the Hajj or Umra, holy Muslim pilgrimages.


Mamluk era

A fortress was built on the site by the Circassian Mamluk sultan Al Ashraf Qansuh al Ghawri. A group of Christian pilgrims in 1483 recorded that there was a great well at an-Nekhel which was called the “Well of the Sultan” because during the pilgrimage season the Sultan employed a man with two camels to draw water all day for the pilgrims. The Frenchmen were on their way to Saint Catherine’s Monastery and avoided the well due to uncertainty of the reception they might receive.

Ottoman era

The existing fortress was built by Sultan Selim in the sixteenth century, following his invasion of Egypt in 1517. “Moorish” soldiers were stationed to protect the pilgrims who came from Egypt, Morocco, Algiers and Spain.


Mohammed Ali era

In fact,Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who visited the site in the first decade of the 19th century, reported a large building with stone walls and no habitations around it. There was a large reservoir for the pilgrims filled from a brackish well. The garrison consisted of about fifty soldiers and the fort was used as a magazine to provision the Egyptian Army in its expedtions against the Wahabis.

In fact,In the nineteenth century the road was infested with hyenas, dabba, which fed on the dead camels which had fallen by the wayside. If very hungry, packs were known to have attacked solitary travelers. The residents of an-Nekhel would not leave the village at night for fear of attack, and kept dogs to frighten off the scavengers.

an-Nekhel fortress and village, before 1914.

In fact,An explorer at the beginning of the 20th century describes it as a square fort on “absolutely barren ground”. Built as a place to provide Haj pilgrims with water. It was manned by an officer and ten soldiers. A village around the fort consisted of fifteen to twenty houses inhabited by ex-soldiers and their families. All food was transported from Gaza or Suez. Though the villagers cultivated small patches of ground with corn and maize when Wadi el-Arish flooded. This did not occur every year and the Wadi dried up very quickly. Some of the villagers also kept camels. It took the Cairo pilgrims three days to reach an-Nekhel from Suez, and another three days to reach Aqaba.