When in 2008 we went on a Mediterranean Cruise, one of the reasons we wanted to go so bad was to see the Pyramids in Egypt. The ship was going to be docked in Alexandria for two days, giving us ample time to admire one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. As the Latin expression goes, “Veni, vidi, vici” – we went, we saw, but did we conquer anything at all? Egypt left us with mixed feelings, you will see why in the photo essay below.
November 2008, Alexandria Port, Egypt. Looks beautiful, doesn't it? We were so excited we were going to see the world-famous Pyramids, that we could barely wait to set foot ashore.
We had two days in Egypt, and the first day we decided to explore Alexandria. It is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about 32 km (20 mi) along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country.
Alexandria, also known as The Pearl Of The Mediterranean, is Egypt's largest seaport, serving approximately 80% of Egypt's imports and exports. It is also an important tourist resort.
I enjoyed walking along the coast and admiring the beautiful old buildings. My husband not so much...
Sights like this are not uncommon in Egypt. Even though Alexandria is considered to be their most metropolitan city, it is definitely not like the Western world.
However, I always like to see places for what they are. Alexandria might not be impeccably clean, the cars are old, the streets are smelly, but it is an ancient city with rich history and culture.
Alexandria was founded around a small pharaonic town c. 331 BC by Alexander the Great. It remained Egypt's capital for nearly a thousand years, until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in AD 641, when a new capital was founded at Fustat (Fustat was later absorbed into Cairo).
Alexandria was known because of its Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; its library (the largest library in the ancient world); and the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.
This is where I dragged my husband to: The Royal Library of Alexandria. It was the largest and most significant great library of the ancient world. The library flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC.
In 48 BC Julius Caesar "accidentally" burned the library down when he set fire to his own ships to frustrate Achillas' attempt to limit his ability to communicate by sea. After its destruction, scholars used a "daughter library" in a temple known as the Serapeum, located in another part of the city.
Intended both as a commemoration and an emulation of the original, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in 2002 near the site of the old library.
The setting for the stormy relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Alexandria was the center of learning in the ancient world, but ancient Alexandria declined, and when Napoleon landed he found a sparsely populated fishing village.
After seeing the library, my husband was more than ready to go back to the ship. I kept snapping as many pictures as I could, still curious to explore more of this interesting city. Next time I go there, if I do, I will definitely find a local guide and try to blend in more, to get a better feel of the place.
From the late 19th century, Alexandria became a major centre of the international shipping industry and one of the most important trading centres in the world, both because it profited from the easy overland connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and the lucrative trade in Egyptian cotton.
Generations of immigrants from Greece, Italy and the Levant settled here and made the city synonymous with commerce, cosmopolitanism and bohemian culture; Lawrence Durrell described it as " The capital city of Asiatic Europe, if such a thing could exist".
A typical side-street scene...
Traffic was interesting, to say the least. We definitely stood out on the street, and turned many heads. Looking back, I should have probably covered my hair and not worn a while skirt...
Safely back on board, we watched the sunset with mixed feelings from the top deck. I wish I had seen more, my husband wished he hadn't gotten off the ship at all... It's not my fault I am an adventurous soul.
“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did now know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.” – Italo Calvino
I found out that I had more pictures of Egypt than I thought. Stay tuned for Part II: The Pyramids tomorrow!
Sources: personal experience and Wikipedia.