ALEXANDRIA | MEETING POINT OF CULTURES

Culture, Travel

FOUNDED 331 BC BY ALEXANDER THE GREAT OVER THE COURSE OF HIS GIGANTIC CONQUEST

The port city in northern Egypt was founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great (20th of July 356 BC – 10th of June 323 BC) who over the course of his gigantic conquest founded some twenty cities that bore his name. Alexander was born as the son of King Philipp II. When his father in 336 BC was murdered, Alexander succeeded the throne at the age of 20, and begun his campaign by defeating the Persians, Egyptians and Indians in the following eleven years. He covered a distance of around 32,000 km and is considered the greatest conqueror of all time.

However, the first and greatest city was Alexandria, located on the western edge of the Nile Delta, about 183 km northwest of Cairo in Lower Egypt. At that time, it attracted scholars, scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, artists and historians and not only became an important center of Hellenic learning and science but also controlled trade between Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean.


Alexander was the restless type and always looking for new conquests, leaving Egypt just a few months after founding his city to march on Tire in Phoenicia with his commander, Cleomenes, left in charge to build the new city that he had envisioned. The first construction projects began with the backfilling of part of the waterway that separated the island of Pharos from a small village called “Raktos” or “Rakoda“, dated back to 1,500 BC that was also the foundation stone of the newly emerging metropolis. After the early death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, the Ptolemaic dynasty (323-30 BC) a line of Greek kings, soon gained great importance under the rule of his general Ptolemy.


THE SECOND-LARGEST EGYPTIAN CITY AFTER CAIRO AND ONE OF THE LARGEST PORTS ON THE MEDITERRANEAN COAST, ACCUMULATED CULTURE AND WEALTH AND WAS ONCE THE MOST POWERFUL METROPOLIS IN THE ORIENT

Alexander the Great and his successors made Alexandria the capital of Egypt for almost a thousand years. After Caesar was murdered in 44 BC, his right hand-man, Marcus Antonius, became Cleopatra’s consort and left Rome to move his strategic base to Alexandria. The city remained his base until he and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian Caesar in 31 BC. The next year, Cleopatra and Antony committed suicide, and with their death the Ptolemaic line also ended. Alexandria now became one of the numerous simple provinces of the Roman Empire.

In 641 AD, Alexandria fell until the Muslim conquest of Egypt by Amr Ibn Al Aas and a new capital of Egypt, Fustat, the later Cairo was founded on the Nile. The former metropolis shrank to little more than a small, insignificant city by the end of the Ottoman period. What was not destroyed by war, was eroded by nature. In 1798 Napoleon and his French army conquered the city and shortly afterwards by the British to remain in their sphere of influence for 150 years. It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that the city managed to grow back into an important economic center.

Today, Alexandria has become a popular year-round travel destination with its temperate weather, international boat races and many historical sights. Monuments and relics from the Pharaonic, Hellenic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic times can be viewed in the numerous museums and give an insight into the glamorous past of this fascinating city. Throughout history, Alexandria has been famous for many attractions. Probably the best known are the Pharos, the first lighthouse in history, and the Great Library of Alexandria.


THE LIGHTHOUSE OF ALEXANDRIA

The Pharos of Alexandria (in Greek: Φάρος της Αλεξάνδρειας) was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was the first lighthouse in the world and built during the reign of Ptolemy II in 270 BC. At a height of over 100 meters, it was located at the end of the Pharos Peninsula, on which today’s Kaed Bey Citadel is located. The lighthouse was badly damaged by three earthquakes between 956 BC and 1323 AC and finally completely destroyed. It was not until 1994 that a team of French archaeologists dived into the waters at the east port of Alexandria to discover the remains of the lighthouse on the seabed.


THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA
The construction of the Royal Library, called the Great Library or simply Bibliotheca Alexandrina, began under Ptolemy I (ruled 305-285 BC) and was completed by Ptolemy II (ruled 285-246 BC). Designed on the model of Aristotle’s school library, one of Alexander’s teachers, it eclipsed any other library in antiquity and was the largest and most significant in the world. Nobody knows how many books were collected and stored, but estimates have been made of 400,000 papyrus scrolls.

Most of the items were bought, but rulers and scholars were invited to contribute books. Books from other cultures, were all translated into Greek. From all over the Hellenistic world, scholars from the fields of mathematics, astronomy, literature and medicine came to research and teach at the adjacent research center, the “Museum”, which was dedicated to the Muses, the goddesses of the arts and the intellect. The library burned down several times during its almost 1,000-year history.

Julius Caesar was believed to be the first of the three culprits. When he was cut off from a large fleet of Egyptian boats in the port of Alexandria in 48 BC during his pursuit from Pompey to Egypt, he ordered the boats to be burned. The flames spread to the city and the reached also the library. Nevertheless, the library lived on.

The second, more famous, cremation was carried out by Theophilus, who was the Patriarch of Alexandria from 385 to 412 AC. He transformed the Temple of Serapis, which housed almost 10 percent of the library’s collection, into a Christian church and destroyed the existing books in the process.

The last and probably the worst burning took place in 640 AC under Muslim rule. The ruler, Kalif Omar, believed that the contents of the library “either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so that they are superfluous”. The books were then reportedly used as fuel for the town’s bathhouses for the next six months.

In 1972, Mostafa El-Abbadi, professor at Alexandria University, suggested reviving the ancient library. With the support of the Egyptian government and UNESCO, the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated on October 16, 2002, next to the University of Alexandria and near the ancient building. The building has space for eight million books, includes a planetarium, several museums, art galleries and conference rooms.

The article was first published in Issue 15

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