Alexandria: The Mermaid of the Mediterranean
The Mermaid of the Mediterranean founded by Alexander the Great, the-modern- second largest city in Egypt. The city of intertwining religions, heritage, culture, industry and tourism. The city where it all started from several ancient islands, to an ancient capital partly sinking under the waters of the Mediterranean (The city of Heracleon) and rediscovered in the modern days.
An ancient living city, a tale of different cultures, where you witness the Egyptian timeline since the Ptolemaic era. The ancient city preserved monuments commemorating the end of the Ancient Egyptian civilization and several hundred years of invasions. The foundation of the city was a turning point to put an affirmative end to the ancient Egyptian era, meanwhile in a very slow but steady movement towards Hellenistic culture that flourished for several centuries. The religious thoughts were reflected in a mixed school of art and architecture merging ancient Egyptian and Greek culture. Alexandria: the center of Greek/Roman culture in Egypt, and a major cultural city since then.
The archaeological/touristic sites extend from Alexandria to Marsa Matruh Governorate; including modern Alexandria, Marina and El-Alamin: the site of fierce WWII battles and vibrant construction location of new El-Alamin.
Establishment of the City
The story of Alexandria began when Alexander the Great decided to establish a new capital for his empire in Egypt. He chose for Alexandria a strategic location and visited the site himself to put the foundation deposits. Few months later, Alexander left Egypt and never returned to the city. His early death prevented him from witnessing the completion of the city construction.
With the emergence of the Ptolemaic period, King Ptolemy I declared Alexandria as the capital, and on the Island of Pharos, the famous Lighthouse was built by Ptolemy II. The lighthouse is estimated to have been 100 m tall, the tallest at that time and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was badly damaged by three earthquakes, abandoned and later dismantled and used for building the Citadel of Qaitbay during the Mamluk period.
The mergence between ancient Egyptian and Greek religious thoughts resulted in the creation of several Gods accepted by both societies, Serapis was one of the main gods, and on the western side of Alexandria stands the remains of a Serapeum dedicated to the Protector of Alexandria.
It was also during this time that the Great Library of Alexandria was established to house what would become the largest collection of ancient manuscripts in the classical world. Unfortunately, the library was reported to have burned down, along with an irreplaceable collection of papyri during the third century BC. It was built in 2002, not far away from the ancient site, as an academic institution: The modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
Dating towards the end of the Ptolemaic era, on the Pharos Island is El Anfushi Necropolis (discovered in 1901), that shows Roman artistic influences even before the invasion of Egypt by the Roman Empire!
The Kom El-Shuqafa Necropolis consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the funeral cult with Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman influences.
Right in the center of the modern city, lies Kom El-Dikka Necropolis, which was occupied for a very long period: from second century BC to the fourteenth century AD. The long-time span of the site; reveals a lot of social and historical contexts. The richness of the residences is reflected by the beautiful mosaic floors and geometrical figures.
Later in the Roman era, the city became a huge construction site: a complex of big Imperial baths flanked by monumental colonnades, and numerous public buildings were built around it. Most importantly, a wide colonnade portico as a monumental setting for what is called today “Oxford” of the late antiquity, the only ancient university discovered so far, with perfectly preserved auditoria, built in a row along the portico.
A theater built in the 6th Century AD, combined with the auditoria and baths formed the social and cultural center of late antique Alexandria.
Near the Serapeum, stands the Roman Pompey’s Pillar, a triumphal monument constructed as the only free-standing column in Roman-Egypt, and one of the largest monolithic columns ever erected.
During the first century AD, Christianity found its way into the hearts of Egyptian people, through St. Mark. He died as a martyr in the Festival of Serapis (68 AD), while being dragged on the floor.
St. Mark Cathedral
His relics were divided between three Churches bearing his name: in Venice, Cairo and Alexandria. The one in Alexandria is the first and oldest Church in Egypt St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral.
Eliyahu Hanavi Synagoguem
Not far from the Cathedral, right in Nabi Daniel Street lies the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagoguem which was built in 1354, bombarded by the French during the invasion in 1798, restored by Mohammed Ali Dynasty, and lately restored by the Egyptian government in 2017.
Citadel of Qaitbay
With the arrival of Islam to Egypt in 640 AD and the foundation of a new capital El-Fustat (in modern Cairo), the political role of Alexandria decreased, but it remained an important international trade and cultural center. Retaining its role as the northern gateway of Egypt, Sultan Al-Ashraf Qaitbay built the Qaitbay Citadel in the place of the existing lighthouse to fortify the country from the foreign invasions.
During the Ottoman rule, Mohammed Ali Pasha started renovation and development projects in Alexandria, and later one of his descendants, the last Khedive, Abbas Helmy II, built El-Montazah Palace, in his hometown. A beautiful palace used as a residence for the royal family and the former presidents Al Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. You can now visit El Montazah, and even stay inside the hotel erected within the Palace’s enclosure.
The oldest Palace built by the Royal Family still in use, Ras El-Tin, a place that witnessed the abdication of King Farouq I of the throne, as the last king of Egypt.
It lies 100 km west of Alexandria, witnessed two of the great battles of World War II, and several cemeteries and a museum were built to commemorate the life and death of the soldiers who took part in the battles. A modern city is currently being built as a new Metropolis of the north coast with comfortable touristic facilities and accommodations.
The Mermaid of the Mediterranean founded by Alexander the Great.