One of Egypt’s largest cities, Alexandria is a delightful mix of Mediterranean and Arabic cultures. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, its history and character makes it stand apart from other cities in the country. A cosmopolitan town, Alexandria is also Egypt’s principal seaport and an important industrial centre. The city lies on the Mediterranean Sea at the western edge of the River Nile delta, about 180 km northwest of Cairo, Egypt’s capital city. The Qaitbay Citadel and the Montazah Palace, the former royal summer residence with its fabulous castle and the idyllic gardens, are just two of the attractions that make this city a favourite summer getaway.
With treasures from the time of the pharaohs, a small bust of Alexander and fine early Christian art, the Alexandria National Museum does a sterling job of relating the city’s history from antiquity until the modern period. Of special interest are the terracotta statues of Greek women and the underwater discoveries from the Mediterranean.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the new Library of Alexandria, has been an important addition to the city’s cultural menu. One of the most famous buildings in the town, it is here that you can learn about the history and culture of Egypt. Opened in 2002, it houses a working library, a repository for manuscripts, art galleries, a planetarium, museums and conference facilities. The glass-panelled roof and a granite exterior wall, carved with ancient Egyptian symbols, add to the grandeur of the structure.
Another site worth visiting is the Serapeum, which is dedicated to the Greek-Egyptian god Serapis. The Romans destroyed it in 391 AD but a few original pieces remain on the site such as the nearly 90-foot-tall Pompey’s Pillar. It is the largest pillar in all of Egypt and was built as a mark of respect to the Roman emperor, Diocletian. Two big sphinxes site besides the pillar.
Relax by the Corniche
The Corniche is a gorgeous waterfront promenade that runs along the Eastern Harbour. The western end starts at the Citadel of Qaitbay. The Citadel was built in the 15th century and is situated at the site of the legendary Pharos Lighthouse, which is in ruins due to repeated damage by earthquakes. Housing a naval museum today, the fort is a star attraction for tourists. At the other end of the Corniche is the Montazah Palace, known for its elaborate design. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the palace features gardens full of rare plants, various flowers and palm trees. It is a perfect place to come for a relaxing walk.
While Egypt’s souks are renowned all over the world, there is something special when it comes to the Souq District of Alexandria. Located at the western end of Midan Tahrir, the bustling souk area is filled with busy stalls. The tiny, twisting lanes are lined with shops that have everything from trinkets to spices to household goods. It is an ideal place to buy some beautiful souvenirs to take back home, but remember to bargain before you settle on a price. If you are looking for some antiques for your home or for some jewellery, the Attareen Antique Market is the place to be. The shops in small alleys specialise in antique furniture, ancient coins, vintage vases, and other old pieces, with some dating back to the time of the 19th-century European invasion of the Ottoman empire.
Words: Fadia Jiffry