We were beginning to feel a little antsy after spending the past 3 weeks in Cairo. When our friend and guide, Mike mentioned he was hoping to run a day trip to Alexandria, we jumped at the opportunity. It turned out we were the only people interested, so we had ourselves another private tour.
Alexandria was originally founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Upon Alexander’s death, his empire was divided amongst his generals and Ptolemy was awarded Egypt. As the new pharoah, Ptolemy moved the Egyptian capital from Memphis to Alexandria where the city flourished for several centuries. During Roman rule, Alexandria still played a prominent role in the region and did so until Rome’s decline in the 4th century AD. In the 7th century the conquering Muslim armies decided to move the capital to Cairo, furthering Alexandria’s decline throughout the middle ages. It didn’t begin to turn around again until Napoleon arrived in 1798 recognizing the strategic importance of this port village. During the subsequent reign of Muhammed Ali in the early 1800’s, Alexandria became one of the busiest ports on the Mediterranean and attracted many inhabitants from throughout the region. In recent years, much of the city’s international population has migrated elsewhere, but many of their European influences are still evident.
We began our tour of the city by checking out the Roman Theatre. This theatre complex was originally constructed by Ptolemy I, but was also used and redeveloped during Roman times. The original theatre had approximately 60 rows, whereas the current one only has 13. While the site itself was pretty neat, we’ve seen such incredible Greek/Roman ruins over the past year or so (Ephesus, Jerash, Amman, Athens), it was a little underwhelming.
After the theatre, we headed over to Alexandria’s Bibliotheca. In ancient times, Alexandria boasted one of the most amazing centres for learning in the world – the Great Library. The Great Library was established in 283 BC, with the non-trivial goal of possessing a copy of every book in the entire world. It has been estimated at its peak it had over 700,000 books in its collection. Unfortunately, most of this knowledge is lost today as the library itself was destroyed in antiquity (there are several theories as to who was responsible).
The new Bibliotheca, built in 2002, attempts to reclaim some of the Great Library’s previous glory. In addition to it’s vast collection of books, it also has 3 permanent museums, 4 specialized libraries, a planetariam, a conference centre, temporary and permanent exhibitions and a full schedule of events. Unfortunately, it was closed, so the front steps were as close as we’d get this day.
From there we headed to lunch. Mike promised that this restaurant was an authentic Alexandrian seafood restaurant. That sounded great to us. We ordered two fish (Mike didn’t know the English name – they kind of looked like a trout), prepared Singary-style. We also had prawns, calamari, rice, salad, eggplant, soup, tahina & bread. It was all pretty delicious. Definitely one of the highlights of the day.
After lunch, we toured the Qaitbay Citadel (Fort). The Citadel was used as fortifications to protect against incoming invasions, but was built on the same site as Alexandria’s lighthouse – one of the Great Wonders of the Ancient World.
Following our tour of Qaitbay, we stopped for a traditional Egyptian dessert – Roz be Leben (kind of a rice pudding) before heading home.
A great day for sure. If we do return, we’ll have to make sure it’s a day that the Bibliotheca is open. And stop for some of that fish again too :-)…