the Roman fortress of Babylon, later called Qasr al—Sham’ (Fortress of the Beacon]. After the Arab conquest, the defensive function of this fortress became obsolete and it was occupied largely by the Copts who built several churches and monasteries within the precinct, several of which still exist.
Much of the early history of this site is obscure. Originally it was probably a settlement where the ferry serving the road from Memphis to Heliopolis crossed the Nile. Being safely within the confines of Egyptian territory there was little need for fortifications. During either the Assyrian or Persian occupations a fortress was erected here since their hold on the territory was purely that of military superiority. By Roman times this fortress was known as Babylon of Egypt, although whether this was the original name is uncertain.
One of the Roman legions was installed here and Trajan had the whole complex rebuilt. When the Arabs invaded, Cyril the Byzantine patriarch and governor, held out for some time within the fortress but finally capitulated. At this time the Nile still ran directly beneath the W wall of the fortress, and the Arab town built by the followers of ‘Amr straggled to the NE. In the mid 19C much of the original structure was still standing, but the British, despite condemnation by expatriate residents, demolished a large part of it during extensive alterations. Only parts of the towers and gates have survived.