Qasr al-Basha

Qasr al-Basha

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Qasr al-Basha (also known as Radwan Castle and Napoleon's Fort) was formerly a large palace, and now a two-floored girl's school and museum, situated in the Old City of Gaza
Gaza , also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of about 450,000, making it the largest city in the Palestinian territories.Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC,...

. It served as a seat of power in the Mamluk and Ottoman periods and as a police station under the British Mandate.

Mamluk and Ottoman eras

The first floor of Qasr al-Basha was built by the Mamluk
A Mamluk was a soldier of slave origin, who were predominantly Cumans/Kipchaks The "mamluk phenomenon", as David Ayalon dubbed the creation of the specific warrior...

 sultan Zahir Baibars
Baibars or Baybars , nicknamed Abu l-Futuh , was a Mamluk Sultan of Egypt. He was one of the commanders of the forces which inflicted a devastating defeat on the Seventh Crusade of King Louis IX of France and he led the vanguard of the Egyptian army at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, which marked...

 in the mid-13th century. The facade bares the landmark of Baibars which is a relief sculpture of two lions facing each other. The geometrical patterns and domes, fan and cross vaults are typical Mamluk architecture under Bahri rule. According to local legend, in the 13th century CE, when Baibars was still a general fighting the Crusader
The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem...

s and Mongols throughout the Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

, he passed through Gaza on several occasions. During one of his visits, Baibars is believed to have married in Gaza and built a grand mansion for his Gazan wife and children. It is said that Qasr al-Basha is what remains of this home.

The second floor of the building is largely of Ottoman-era
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 construction. In the 17th century, Qasr al-Basha served as the fortress home of the ruling Radwan dynasty (hence the name "Radwan Castle") and later pashas of Gaza, who were governors appointed by the Ottoman governor of the Damascus Province. During this era, the fortress was provided with arrow slits and underground passages as means of defense. Within the complex were soldier's lodgings, a mosque
A mosque is a place of worship for followers of Islam. The word is likely to have entered the English language through French , from Portuguese , from Spanish , and from Berber , ultimately originating in — . The Arabic word masjid literally means a place of prostration...

, granary, an armory, and cannons. The height of the structure made Qasr al-Basha a strategic point in Gaza. This, along with its fortifications, was the probable reason Napoleon Bonaparte spent three nights at the palace during his Siege of Acre
Siege of Acre (1799)
The Siege of Acre of 1799 was an unsuccessful French siege of the Ottoman-defended, walled city of Acre and was the turning point of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Syria.-Background:...

 in 1799, hence the name "Napoleon's Fort".

Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 traveler Eviliya Celebi wrote of Qasr al-Basha in 1649, saying "the Citadel was built in ancient times and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar was the name of several kings of Babylonia.* Nebuchadnezzar I, who ruled the Babylonian Empire in the 12th century BC* Nebuchadnezzar II , the Babylonian ruler mentioned in the biblical Book of Daniel...

. The present citadel derives from a later time. It is small and rectangular and lies one hour distant, east of the sea. Its walls are twenty yards high. It has a metal door which opens in the direction of the qibla
The Qiblah , also transliterated as Qibla, Kiblah or Kibla, is the direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during salah...

. The commander and the garrison must always be present here to fulfill their guard duties because it is in a dangerous place, here the Arab tribes and the enemy are numerous."

Modern period

During the British Mandate of Palestine period it was used as a police station, and during the Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian rule of Gaza, Qasr al-Basha was turned into a school known as the Princess Ferial School for Girls. After Farouk I of Egypt were deposed in Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

, the school was renamed to al-Zahra Secondary School for Girls.
The United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations Development Programme is the United Nations' global development network. It advocates for change and connects countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. UNDP operates in 177 countries, working with nations on their own solutions to...

 (UNDP) undertook a project, funded by a grant from the German Development Bank (KFW), for the transformation of Qasr al-Basha into a museum. The UNDP built new facilities for the girls' school, and restoration of the Pasha's Palace began under the close supervision of the Palestinian Authority Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage. During the first phase of the project, workers landscaped the museum grounds, installed new doors, windows and gates, and restored the facade
A facade or façade is generally one exterior side of a building, usually, but not always, the front. The word comes from the French language, literally meaning "frontage" or "face"....

 of the palace.

In the second phase of the project, display cases and other appropriate furniture was installed in the museum. The Department of Antiquities used them to exhibit some items from their collection, including Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, Persian, Hellenistic, Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

n, Ancient Egyptian, and Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

artifacts. The smaller building in front of the palace was also renovated for use as a gateway to the museum.