Alexandria, the “Pearl of the Mediterranean,” is a city to explore at random; it’s as important to enjoy its unique atmosphere, as it is to see its sights. It was built about 2300 years ago at the orders of Alexander the Great, and quickly flourished into a prominent cultural, political and economic metropolis. As in ancient times when it was home to Pharos, the legendary lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Alexandria still has a very special ambience and a character of its own.
Alexandria was once the world’s intellectual capital, and the center of learning in ancient times. Its library, built 2400 years ago, was the world’s first university in the world with its college scholars such as Euclid of Alexandria, who is often referred to as the “Father of Geometry”, and it also served as a publishing house. Tragically, a fire destroyed the Ancient Library, but an international project to revive it was completed in 2000. It now houses over 4 million volumes, 100,000 manuscripts, a conference center, science museum, planetarium and a school of information studies.
The Roman Theater
Built between the 2nd and the 4th centuries A.D., the Roman Theater in Alexandria had marble seats for 800 spectators, galleries and sections of mosaic flooring. It was a pleasure garden surrounded by Roman villas and baths. The well-preserved remains of the theater were discovered in 1960, and today it is the only remaining Roman Theater in Egypt.
The Anfushi Tombs
These incredible limestone tombs date back about 2250 years, and their walls are covered in stucco painted to simulate alabaster and marble. They are decorated with pictures of daily life and Egyptian gods, and the funeral chamber’s vaulted ceiling is decorated with geometric designs. The funeral motifs in the tombs show the convergence of Greek art with traditional Egyptian arts.
The tallest ancient monument in Alexandria is an 82-foot-high red granite column, 29½ feet in circumference, constructed in honor of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Nearby there are three sphinxes and subterranean galleries containing over 60 mummies of sacred Apis bulls.
Kom El-Shougafa Catacombs
This complex was built in the 2nd-century AD as private tombs for a wealthy family, but was later enlarged for the community, creating the largest Roman funerary complex known in Egypt. The tomb decorations show a surprising blend of Egyptian and classical styles, so typical in Egypt. The tombs have been tunneled into bedrock and they represent a major engineering feat. A spiral staircase descends down to the main chambers, which are decorated in an amazing integrated Greco-Roman style. Small chapels extend from the chambers, and niches are carved out to hold sarcophagi. Stone benches inside used to accommodate visitors or mourners bring food and offerings. Some say that these tombs alone are worth the trip to Alexandria!
The Graeco-Roman Museum
You know that you are about to experience something very unique when you enter the Greco-Roman Museum and are greeted by a huge black granite bull (the Egyptian god Apis) and an enormous stone falcon. There is nothing quite like it in the world. The collection contains relics from the Greek, Roman and Christian eras in Egypt. Inside there are statues of all sorts – miniature to life-size – from the various religions represented. Other items of interest are children’s toys, tools, jewelry and a mummified crocodile. You can even learn about the god known as Bes (the god of fun), and see a replica of the commemorative “Rosetta Stone”; an Egyptian stele artifact that allowed the linguists to begin the process of Hieroglyph decipherment. The original “Stone” is put on public display in the British Museum since 1802.
The Attarine Mosque
Dedicated to the Christian Saint Athanasius in 370, the structure was then converted into a Mosque at the beginning of the Arab conquest in the 14th century. It stands on the site of the famous Mosque of a Thousand Columns, from which Napoleon removed the seven-ton sarcophagus now in the British Museum.
The Mosque of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi
The Algerian Moslems built Alexandria’s largest mosque in 1775 over the tomb of the 13th century Andalusian holy man, Ahmed Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi. Eight monolithic granite columns and a colonnade of elongated arches support the interior. In 1943, domes and a towering minaret were added. This important Islamic monument is dedicated to the patron and protector of Alexandria’s fishermen and sailors.
The Eastern Harbor
Deep inside the harbor of Alexandria rest the astonishing remains of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, namely the lighthouse “Pharos”. It amazed the world for hundreds of years until a catastrophic earthquake brought it cashing down. In present day times, you can see fisherman and boat builders practicing the skills that they have perfected over centuries. Graceful colonial mansions surrounded by palm trees line look upon the bay, cooled by gentle breezes coming from the Mediterranean.
Montazah Palace and Gardens
The Royal Palace of Al-Montazah is built on a low plateau overlooking a sandy white beach and surrounded by formal gardens with trees, palms and flowers. The Palace was designed in a combination of Turkish and Florentine styles, and is now a state guesthouse. Its 1.4 sq km of well-tended pleasure gardens are open to the public, and within the same area are a museum, several beaches, a tourist center, a hotel, fast-food restaurants and a children’s park.