Cairo’s historic Ramadan cannon fires again

Now a familiar way to announce the end of the fast in the Arab world, the tradition is thought to have originated in the 15th century.

Egypt’s famous “Ramadan Cannon” at the historic Saladin Al-Ayyubi Citadel in Cairo. Photo by Samar Elsayed/Creative Commons

(RNS) — For the first time since 1992, Egypt’s famous “Ramadan Cannon” is once again firing to mark sunset in Cairo, when the daily fasting for Islam’s holy month ends for the city’s Muslims.

Now fired from an 1871 cannon positioned at the historic Saladin Al-Ayyubi Citadel, the nightly blast has been an on-again, off-again tradition since the time of Mameluke Sultan Kho Shoqdum in the 15th century.

The cannon was known for decades as the “Al Hajjah Fatima” after a story, possibly apocryphal, involving the daughter of Khedive Ismail Pasha, who ruled Egypt in the mid-19th century. The princess asked that the cannon be fired during Ramadan to help the people of Cairo know when they could break their fast.

RELATED: California date farmers lean into Ramadan season’s spike in sales

The original cannon has long since been replaced. The current 1871 gun is a German-made Krupp model was made available this year by Egyptian authorities for use during Ramadan.

The Sultan Kho Shoqdum is commonly thought to have started the practice by accident, when he test-fired a cannon around sunset. Many Cairo residents mistook the shot as a public service announcement of the end of the day’s fast. Other traditions maintain the practice may have been started in the Ottoman Empire.

Whoever fired the first Ramadan shot, the mid-19th century was a time when cannons were becoming more readily available to authorities across the Middle East and beyond, and the practice marking the end of the day’s fast with the report of a cannon spread rapidly in the Muslim world. Today cannons have become a familiar way to announce the end of the fast in the Arab world and across Bangladesh and into Southeast Asia.

While Ramadan cannons were once fired strictly for time-keeping purposes, their role today is far more ceremonial. In the United Arab Emirates, the firing of the cannon in the capital of Dubai is a draw for tourists. The cannons used in the UAE are of the World War II era of British manufacture and can be heard as far as 10 kilometers away, depending on noise pollution.

The historic Cairo cannon was restored by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities for use during Ramadan in a careful monthlong process to remove rust and clean the barrel. In a modern touch, a laser beam will also be fired next to the cannon for further effect.

Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!