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Alexandria City

Alexandria City; “Bride of the Mediterranean”: Alexander the Great established Alexandria (Al-Iskendariyya), and Cleopatra made it her kingdom.

Their port was guarded by the Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

There is little trace of Alexander now, and Cleopatra’s old city has been largely submerged by the sea, while the Pharos lighthouse collapsed and the Great Library’s literary treasures were repeatedly set on fire.

Alexandria City
Alexandria is a port city located on the Mediterranean Sea in northern Egypt founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great.

Alexandria, the Mediterranean’s bride

Add to it the fact that Egyptian Muslim rulers transferred the capital to neighbouring Cairo, reducing the once-powerful metropolis to virtual oblivion for decades.

Alexandria enjoyed a cosmopolitan rebirth in the 19th century, but Nasser’s wave of change ended it in the 1950s. Despite its inferiority to Cairo, contemporary Alexandria resembles a precocious adolescent anxious to define itself.

Alexandria’s innovative new library signified a bold leap into modernity, the first hesitant steps of a city determined to reinvent itself.

Many young artists and authors are discovering their voices, and new cutting-edge venues are giving a forum for their copious work.

I remains to be seen if the new Alexandria will follow the West’s shopping-mall paradigm of a brave new (air-conditioned) world.

Alexandria, the legendary ancient metropolis, is not easily found in its modern-day counterpart. Nonetheless, the city skillfully blends the grandeur of the 19th century with the vitality of young people.

Visit the city’s many museums before or after lunch, then finish the day with delectable fish dinners at dusk.

Alexandria’s History

Alexandria’s history spans the pharaonic and Islamic eras. When Islam’s invading forces passed it by to establish up camp on a place along the Nile that subsequently became Cairo, it was relegated to near oblivion.

The city was founded by Alexander the Great, who came from Sinai, his right to govern Egypt recognised by the Memphis priests.

He picked a fishing town on the beaches of his familiar sea to build a new metropolis that would serve as a bridge between the ancient Pharaonic and the new Greek worlds.

Alexandria City
Alexandria Library

After laying the foundations, Alexander went to Siwa to consult the famed oracle before advancing to Persia. His victorious army reached India, where he died two years later and was buried in Egypt.

In Alexandria, the Greek king was buried when the priests of Memphis refused to bury him in Memphis.

After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s generals, gladly took over the building of the new metropolis.

Alexandria had architecture to match Rome or Athens. To establish a feeling of continuity with the Pharaonic dynasty, Ptolemy made Alexandria appear Egyptian by embellishing it with sphinxes and Memphis and Heliopolis landmarks.

The city grew into a prominent port on the commercial routes between Europe and Asia. That same economic prosperity matched its intellectual stature.

Herophilus found that the brain, not the heart, is where cognition occurs; Euclid established geometry; Aristarchus discovered that the world rotates around the sun; and Eratosthenes estimated the earth’s circumference. On an outlying island, the Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, served as both a signal for ships approaching the busy port and an extravagant emblem of the city’s magnificence.

Alexandria matched Rome in everything save military might under the reign of its most famous regent, Cleopatra, a position Rome found unacceptable and had to address.

Alexandria City
Alexandria is a colonial city of the Greeks and Romans

Under Roman rule, Alexandria remained Egypt’s metropolis, but civil conflict, starvation, and illness decimated its population in the 4th century AD, and it never recovered.

In the 7th century, victorious Muslim troops skipped Alexandria in favour of a new city farther south on the Nile.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the city declined in significance, and its harbour was surpassed by Rosetta.

The remains of one of the greatest cities of the ancient world were mined for construction materials, reducing it to a fishing town (today Anfushi) on a peninsula between two ports with a population of fewer than 10,000.

Napoleon’s invasion in 1798 changed Alexandria’s fortunes, realising its strategic value.

During the reformer Egyptian Mohammed Ali‘s tenure, a new town was created on top of the old. Alexandria re-emerged as one of the Mediterranean’s busiest ports, attracting affluent Turkish-Egyptian businessmen, Jews, Greeks, Italians, and others.

Alexandria, a city rich in commerce and culture, became an inspiration for a new generation of poets, authors, and thinkers. With Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rise to power in 1952 came the end of Alexandria’s multicultural neighbourhoods.

In the aftermath of the Suez crisis, Nasser seized several foreign assets and nationalised many foreign-owned enterprises, forcing many foreigners out leave Egypt.

The city’s character has evolved dramatically since then. In the 1940s, 40% of the city’s population was foreign, but now it is mostly Egyptian.

Alexandria today has almost four million citizens, up from 300,000 in the 1940s, as people move from the countryside to the city.

Modern Alexandria stretches about 20km along a curving coastline, seldom exceeding 3km inland. The city’s core arcs around Eastern Harbour, encircled by two spindly peaks.

The city’s major tram station, Mahattat Ramla (Ramla Station), on Midan Ramla, is considered its core. This plaza is flanked by Sharia Saad Zaghloul and Sharia Safiyya Zaghloul.

Alexandria City, Alexandria
The governorate of Alexandria tried addressing these problems in a City Development Strategy (CDS).

Midan Saad Zaghloul, a bigger and more formal square, with a popular garden overlooking the sea. The tourist office, eateries, and most of the cheaper hotels are located around these two midans (city squares).

To the west of the city’s core are Anfushi and Agami, both of which have some of the city’s greatest beaches.

Towards the east, a string of modern settlements runs down the coast to Rushdy, San Stefano, and Montazah, with its palace and gardens.

The Corniche (Al-Corniche) is a lengthy seaside route that links practically all regions of the city.

Alexandria’s Must-Sees

Alexandria’s attractions are distributed along its lengthy coastline. Always start at the beginning: around Midan Ramla, the city’s various incarnations’ ancient center.

From here, you may visit the Alexandria National Museum, the Graeco-Roman Museum (which may be closed for restoration), the Roman Amphitheater, Pompey’s Pillar, and the Kom ash-Shuqqafa Catacombs.

To the east, the Royal Jewellery Museum, Mahmoud Said Museum, and Montazah may be reached by taxi, tram, or bustling microbus.

1- Roman Museum

Many of Alexandria’s top tourist sites are being refurbished as part of its revitalization plan. Sadly, one of them is the excellent Graeco-Roman Museum. The world’s largest collection of Graeco-Roman art, with over 40,000 pieces, is now on a global tour while the museum is closed.

Alexandria City, Alexandria
In Alexandria, Greco-Roman and Pharaonic religions mingled in the cult of Serapis

2- Museum of Alexandria

The superb Alexandria National Museum captures the city’s glorious heritage. With a tiny, well chosen and well-labeled collection, it tells the city’s history from antiquity to the current day.

Alexandria City, Alexandria
The National Museum Of Alexandria is located in the Horeya Street and is the former the residence of a prominent timber trading businessman.

3- Amphitheater

The 13 white-marble terraces of Egypt’s lone Roman Amphitheater are a wonderfully preserved homage to the days of the centurion. This site was uncovered while laying foundations for apartments on a location known as Kom al-Dikka (Mound of Rubble).

4- Pompey’s Pillar

Pompey’s Pillar, a 30m-high column carved from red Aswan granite, towers above the ruins of Rhakotis, the village from which Alexandria sprang. The column has been a municipal landmark for generations, a single tapering granite shaft 2.7m high with a magnificent Corinthian crown.

alexandria city
Pompey Pillar is one of the most famous monuments in Alexandria.

5-Kom ash-Shuqqafa Catacombs

These catacombs are the biggest known Roman burial site in Egypt. This remarkable technical marvel was one of the last significant constructions devoted to ancient Egyptian religion. The architects employed a Graeco-Roman technique to build, demonstrating Alexandria’s signature mix of Pharaonic and Greek elements.

6- Tahrir

It was designed in 1830 as part of Mohammed Ali’s new look: Alexandria moves to Europe. Mohammed Ali on horseback is the stunning statue in the midan’s centre. A recent clean up has accentuated the wonderful architecture around the area.

7- Anfushi

Charismatic It used to be that uptight Alexandria flocked to Anfushi to get loose. A native quarter, Anfushi stood in contrast to the emerging cosmopolitan metropolis while Midan Ramla and Midan Tahrir were created according to a European plan.

8- Fort Qaitbey

Fort Qaitbey dominates the Eastern Harbour. Built in AD 1480 by the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbey atop the ruins of the famed Pharos lighthouse.

9 – Alexandrian Lib

While finding a suitable substitute for Alexandria’s old library may seem impossible, the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina has succeeded admirably. Officially inaugurated in 2002, this remarkable piece of 20thcentury placed the city on the international cultural map.

10- Royal Jewellery

Making a reputation for oneself in a nation with so many kings is difficult, but Farouk, Egypt’s last king, did it. Known for his excess, womanising, and gambling, he once lost $150,000 in a single session at the gaming tables, while most of his people were poor.

11. Montazah Palace

Alexandria City, Alexandria
Montazah Palace is set in extensive gardens and overlooks a truly beautiful stretch of coast.

Khedive Abbas Hilmy (1892–1914) constructed Montazah as a summer retreat from the heat of Cairo. A pseudo-Moorish style building, it has a tower fashioned after one at the Palazzo Vecchio. In addition to the palace, the adjacent verdant woods and gardens with pine and palm trees are open to the public.

Explore Alexandria by Easy Tours Egypt

About the author

Magdy Fattouh (Migo) is a creative content marketer and expert in search engines for over 5 years. He manifests his passion in his role as a Creative Content Writer especially in travel where he strives to evoke a strong sense of place in his write-ups.