Qasr Al-Basha - Gaza
Qasr Al-Basha (or Al-Radwan Castle) is also known as Napoleon’s Fort. The Castle has a romantic legend attached to it. Local lore has it that in the 13th century when the Mamluk Sultan Zaher Baibars was still a soldier fighting the Crusaders and Mongols in Syria he came through Gaza several times. During one of his visits he is believed to have married in Gaza and built a grand home for his Gazan wife and children. It is said that Qasr Al-Basha is what remains of this home, for it has the landmark of the Sultan Baibars (a sculpture of two lions facing each other) and the geometrical patterns and domes, fan and cross vaults that are typical architecture of the Mamluk-Bahri rule.
Legend aside, we do know that in the 17th century, Qasr Al-Basha was the home/fortress of the Al-Radwan family, who were Ottoman governors and vassals and who ruled for generations. During this era the castle was provided with means of defence such as arrow slits.
Tradition has it that Napoleon spent three nights at Qasr Al-Basha during his siege of Acre in 1799. This is why it is sometimes called Napoleon’s Fort. During the British colonial period it was used as a police station, and during the Egyptian rule it was turned into a school known as the Princess Ferial School for Girls. After the royals were deposed in Cairo it was renamed Al-Zahra Secondary School for Girls.
Under contemporary Palestinian rule, the UNDP was asked to help build a more modern girls’ school just next door and Qasr Al-Basha was turned into a museum, which is expected to house Neolithic, Pharaonic, Phoenician, Hellenistic, Persian, Roman and Byzantine artefacts.