Friday, October 16, 2009

The Egyptian Look

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

Ancient Egyptians were always aware of how appearances matter, where beauty and elegance were the top concern. And in every portrait the focus was always on the meticulously and beautifully outlined eyes that stood out and captured the world. During all periods and dynasties of ancient Egyptians, both men and women, applied eye makeup on a daily prerequisite. It did not only serve as a decorative purpose but it also served medicinal, magical and spiritual practices.

Two eye makeup colors were popular with the ancient Egyptians, the green and the black. Eye makeup was not a luxury reserved for the rich, but even the humblest graves proved to contain some. It was not the existence of makeup that separated rich from poor, but the expense and luxury of the containers and applicators. The eye color was found stored in leather or canvas pouches, small jars, conch shells or within hollow reeds. While the poor used to store it in hollow sticks, the rich used intricately carved and bejeweled containers of ivory or other precious materials.

There were two types of eye color, green "Udju" and black "Mesdemet". Udju was made from green malachite which is the vibrant green ore of copper (copper carbonate hydroxide) and was mined from the Sinai Desert. These mines came under the spiritual domain of the goddess Hathor, ancient goddess of beauty, joy, love and women. She bore the epithet "Lady of Malachite." The malachite stone was crushed and then mixed as the green eye make up. It was especially popular in the Old Kingdom, and right through the Middle Kingdom, but towards the New Kingdom it was replace almost completely by the black color.

Black eye color Mesdemet, was obtained from galena, which is the dark blue-grey ore of lead (lead sulphide). It was obtained either near Aswan in Upper Egypt or at the Red Sea Coast. It was also one of the things that was imported back by Pharaoh Hatshepsut's famed expedition to Punt and was given to her in tribute by the Asiatic nomads. One of the earliest uses of galena was as Kohl. Kohl is a mixture of soot and galena. It gained popularity over the green malachite during the period of the New Kingdom. A small amount of the eye color was mixed with animal fats or even water to make it easier to paint on the face.

The ancient Egyptians used eye makeup not only for cosmetic reasons but also for their medical purposes. Galena possesses disinfectant and fly-deterrent properties. It also protected the eyes from the intense sun. Mesdmemet was prescribed to help cure a number of eye diseases. On the other hand Udju was believed to induce or evoke the eye of Horus, the god of the Sky & Sun and also the god of healing. So outlining the skin around the eye would protect its user, especially from the "evil eye". The Egyptian word for eye-palette was derived from their word for "protect." Kohl was used by mothers, which they applied to the eyes of infants after they were born, was believed to strengthen the child's eyes and protect him from being cursed by the "evil eye". This tradition is still practiced to this day, but in the rural parts of Egypt.

Today galena can be easily and inexpensively purchased but under the name Kohl. Outside of Egypt, it can be purchased from vendors that supply accessories to Eastern dancers. Real kohl usually comes in a little box containing a stick-like applicator and a compartment for the make up itself, so its appearance and way of application has not changed over the centuries. Today kohl can also be purchased in the form of a pencil which is a lot easier to apply.

So ancient Egyptian eye makeup did more than paint a pretty face! Although Kohl became a popular cosmetic once again during the 1920s, when an "Egyptian look" came into fashion in the United States and Europe, and it is still used as eyeliner in many Eastern countries.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem

Monday, September 7, 2009

Journey Through the Afterlife

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

To the Ancient Egyptians death was not the cessation of life but was only a temporary transition or interruption before they enjoyed an eternal existence in the afterlife. This wonderful and mysterious place was every Egyptian's dream and so the rituals to attaining immortality were the only ticket to being reborn.
Piety to the gods, preservation of the physical form through mummification, provision of statuary and other funerary equipment was as much an integral part of the religion as it ensured a safe journey to the afterlife. So the corpse had to be properly embalmed and entombed in a mastaba before it could live again in the Fields of Yalu and accompany the Sun on its daily ride.

The Egyptians believed that the human consisted of living entities, the "ka", the "ba", the "akh", the "name" and the "shadow". These elements were necessary to make up a complete personality and had to be sustained and protected from harm to insure that the deceased was successfully integrated into the cosmos and enjoyed immorality in the next life.

To reach a rewarding destination to the afterlife, the deceased had to pass all the tests. But first the process of preserving the body had to be successful, which took 70 days to be completed. Mummification involved removing the internal organs, removing the brain through the nose, and desiccating the body in a mixture of salts called natron. The body was then wrapped in linen with protective amulets inserted between layers and placed in a decorated anthropoid coffin.

The last of the rituals to be performed by the priests on the mummy was called the "Opening of the Mouth." This ceremony was supposed to magically give the deceased the ability to speak and eat again, and to have full use of his body. After placing the mummy in the sarcophagus, the tomb was sealed.

The deceased then had to wait for the sun god Ra, to come to his tomb. Ra would shine sunlight on the darkness and speak magic words from the Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead contained a collection of spells, charms, passwords, numbers and magical formulas that aided the deceased safely through the journey of the afterlife. After Ra speaks these words, the mummies throw off their wrappings and Ra takes them to the Afterlife on his barge.

For the deceased to get to the Field of Reeds which was the happy place where the dead enjoy the rewards of the afterlife. The deceased disembarks in Duat (the underworld) and has to get past seven gates before reaching the final destination. The soul of the deceased is lead by the jackel-headed Anubis, god of mummification, into the Hall of Truth, and is brought forward to be judged by Osiris.

The Egyptians believed that the heart not the brain was the place for emotion and thought; it was the record of its owner's will and intentions. Basically, the heart was the key to the afterlife as during the Weighing of the Heart ceremony, Osiris placed the heart in a scale to be weighed against a feather which represented Ma'at (truth and order).

If the heart did not tip the scale it was deemed worthy and continued on to the Osirian Fields, but if the heart was heavy with sins it was devoured by the demon Ammit (Eater of Hearts) a half dog, half crocodile god, dooming its victim to eternity in Duat. Thoth, the Egyptian god of scribes, wrote down the results. So earning immortality required a sin-free heart and the ability to recite the spells, passwords, and formulae of the Book of the Dead. The loop-hole around this was being buried with a "surrogate" heart to replace the owner's for the Weighing of the Heart ceremony.

The Egyptians centered their lives on their religion and rituals to finally be rewarded with immortality, but the fear of a "second death" was to be the worst fate imaginable! Not only was it a sorrowful destiny but was considered total oblivion. So to guarantee eternal happiness having a good, honest heart was the most essential element to a safe journey into the Afterlife.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Myth of Creation

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

The Ancient Egyptians did not have a set of theological principles to their religion, nor did they depend on cronical writings. Their religion developed around how the people interacting with their gods, so it was more like a cult which everyone followed as traditions are followed. Everything in their lives was strongly influenced by their beliefs and everything was compromised for the gods.

The Egyptians resisted chance and established the conditions which they believed existed at the dawn of creation. Myths were used to explain the phenomenon of nature, express the values of a culture and to tell the story of the first people to inhabit the Earth. Of course these people where elevated to the status of gods and goddesses, having supernatural powers.

Heliopolis, the City of the Sun is where creation began, according to Egyptian myth. The myth goes to say that at the beginning of time the world was surrounded by infinite expanse of churning, bubbling water, which was the god Nu or Nun, and it was out of Nu that everything began. The first to emerge from the watery mess, Nu was the sun god Atum, the creator of the world. Atum was said to have come out of a blue giant lotus flower that appeared on the surface of the water.

The bisexual god Atum was known as the "Great He-She." Atum was also known by many other names like Khepri, the great scarab beetle, Ra-Harakhte, the winged-solar disk, Ra, the midday sun, Aten, the solar-disk, or Horus on the Horizon. No matter what name he took he was viewed as the one and only creator in the universe.

Alone, Atum mated with his shadow, giving birth to two children by spitting out his son, Shu and vomiting up his daughter, Tefnut. Shu represented the air and the principles of life and Tefnut represented rain and principles of order. After the three remained in the watery chaos of Nu for some time, they got separated, but on being reunited again Atum wept tears of joy. And as his tears hit the ground men grew and this is how the world was created.

Shu and Tefnut married and gave birth to Geb, the god of the Earth and is the place where the throne of the Pharaoh would be decided. They also gave birth to Nut, the goddess of the sky. So Above Geb arched Nut and separating them stood Shu. There also existed another space equivalent to the living world, called the Duat, this was considered as the underground and the place where the soul of the dead receives judgment. The sky beneath the Duat was formed by the feminine counterpart of Nu, Naunet.

Geb and Nut then gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys. Osiris became the symbol of good, while Seth became the symbol of evil. And thus the two poles of morality were fixed once and for all. Seth killed his brother Osiris, but with the help of his sister-wife Isis, Osiris was resurrected and became the god of the underworld.

The sun god Ra (Atum) supreme of all gods, traveled in his barque across Nu (the sky) during the day and as the sun set Ra journeyed over Duat across Naunet during the night. While in the underworld, Ra meets with Osiris, the god of resurrection, so that his life is renewed. He also fights each night with Apep, a serpentine god representing chaos. The defeat of Apep and the meeting with Osiris insured the rising of the sun the next morning, an event that represented rebirth and the victory of order over chaos.

The Egyptians saw death as a transitional stage in the progress to a better life in the next world. Their belief in the rebirth after death became their driving force behind their funeral practices, and only through which they could reach their full potential after death.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Religion of the Ancients

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

Deciding to write about the religion of the Ancient Egyptians was like opening up Pandora’s Box! Not only was religion a belief to the Egyptians, it was a way of life and it governed they’re very existence. It seems they were motivated to create the civilization they have left behind, solely for the gods. We know a lot about they’re everyday lives, the jobs they did, what they grew, what they ate, their government, their medical technology, even how they created their magnificent monuments. We know they dedicated their lives to appease the deities, but what exactly was the belief that was strong enough to create one of the most sophisticated societies in history?
The Egyptian religion was based on polytheism, or the worship of multiple deities, except for the brief period during the reign of King Akhenaton, who was a monotheist, believing in one god, the sun-disc, Aten. There was as many as 2000 gods and goddesses worshiped during the course of their history, often represented as part human and part animal. While some of these gods where worshiped throughout the country some were only popular in a certain location, with different gods being prominent at different periods of Egyptian history. These deities represented various forces of nature and the myths associated with them evolved and changed over time, so really Egypt never had a definite hierarchy of deities nor a unified mythology. In Egyptian mythology the Supernatural was never separated from humanity.

Not only did the Egyptians believe that all the elements and forces of nature where controlled by the gods, but that each element of nature was a divine force in itself. The gods represented phenomena, such like Shu which represented air, as they could also include animals, as Sekhmet, the deification of the ferocity of lions. Deities could also represent more abstract things, as Horus who represented the power of kingship. These deities were worshipped with offerings and prayers, in local and household shrines as well as in formal temples managed by priests. The hymns, prayers and offerings were for the purpose of placating the gods, gaining favors and turning them to human advantage. Because different deities existed in different manifestations, and some had multiple roles, the mythology remains a very complex.

But the most fascinating concept is the force of Ma’at. The Ma’at translates to include “truth,” “justice,” “order” and “harmony.” It was the fundamental of all the natural forces, as it represented the eternal order of the universe, both in nature and in human society. The Ma’at ensured the existence of the world stay in equilibrium. According to Ma’at all people and classes of society lived in harmony, and all the forces of nature existed in balance. Ma'at encompassed the cyclical patterns of time, the seasons, and of human generations, it also embodied the structure of the world, which kept each element in its place. This meant that any disruption of Ma’at was fundamentally harmful, so all people were expected to behave in accordance with it.

Egyptians regarded kingship as a force of nature, where the pharaoh was recognized as being both king and god. Although be was seen to be human with vulnerability, he was also regarded to have divine powers, as he was the intermediary between the Egyptian people and the gods. He was of course expected to uphold Ma’at in society, by defending the country from enemies, appointing fair officials, settling disputes between his people, managing the food supply, and appeasing the gods with temples and offerings. It was the pharaoh’s responsibility to honor and content the gods, which is how many temples grew to be huge, such as the Temple of Amun at Karnak, which is the largest religious structure in the world.

Ancient Egyptians tried to understand their place in the universe and their mythology centers itself on nature, the earth, sky, moon, sun, stars, and the Nile River. Trying to understand their mythology and its inter-woven complex connection with their very existence, we may discover not only secrets of the ancient, but we may very well stumble on secrets of the universe.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Unfinished Obelisk

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

Religion played a more than crucial role in the lives of the Ancient Egyptians, and the overwhelming costs and labor needed to produce, transport and erect religious artifacts, such as obelisks and pyramids, was insignificant compared to its final gratification to the Egyptian people and their rulers. Obelisks where placed, in pairs, in front of or into temples, such as the temple of Karnak in Luxor. They were believed to act as antennas that channeled cosmic energy down to Earth.

An obelisk is a single, quadrangular, monolithic stone wider at the base, tapering gently as it rises upwards, ending with a pyramidion summit. Sometimes the pyramidion was covered with a gold and silver alloy called electrum. The electrum cap duplicates the glare of the Sun as it emits its rays to the earth. The four sides of the obelisk were inscribed and decorated with hieroglyphs. The inscriptions were usually dedications to the Sun god, Amun-Ra or commemorations of a life of a king or queen.

According to the ancient mythology of Egypt, and from the belief in the concept of “Ma’at” (harmony and truth), we know that the obelisks came in pairs and that there were two in heaven and two on earth in every age. The obelisk was associated with the worship of the solar cult, and were called tekhenu by the Egyptians. The Greeks were the ones who called them “obelisk” or little spits (items used for roasting meat over a fire). The oldest obelisk was discovered in Abusir, dating back from the Old Kingdom during the reign of King Niuserre (2449-2417 BC), but it was only 10 feet tall.

To be a success the obelisk had to be a giant single piece of rock, if the cosmic energy was to travel down through it. If completed, the Unfinished Obelisk would have been the largest yet at 1,168 tones and standing 137 feet tall. The tallest today is the Lateran Obelisk in Rome, at 105 feet and weighing 455 tons, which originally stood at the temple of Karnak in Luxor. The project of the Unfinished Obelisk was abandoned because during its extraction, a profound crack was discovered near the center of the obelisk. The bottom side of The Obelisk is still attached to the bedrock, giving insight into the stone-work techniques adopted by the ancient Egyptians.

The Unfinished Obelisk is located in the Northern Quarry in Aswan. It was commissioned by Queen Hatshepsut to commemorate her 16th anniversary on the throne, and would have been the world’s largest piece of stone ever handled. The Obelisk if finished would have had to be transported by boat on the Nile, to be erected at the Karnak Temple.

The marks left behind on the rock face by ancient rock cutters and the tools they left behind sheds light on how such an accomplishment was undertaken. To carve out the huge stone block as a single piece, a row of holes were made with wooden wedges driven into them. Water was then poured on to the wood and as the wood expanded it caused the rock to split. The obelisk was then chiseled into shape by workers with dolomite rock, which is even harder than granite. Heated bricks were then placed on the surface of the obelisk and when it was sufficiently hot, water was poured on, causing the uneven parts to flake off, giving the granite a smooth finish.

The quarry site has been recently renovated and equipped to accommodate tourists. Being an open-air museum it is protected by the Egyptian government as an archaeological site. Although The Obelisk never came out of its bedrock it was not a complete failure for today we are grateful, as this Unfinished Obelisk has taught us more than any other monument in Egypt!

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Female Pharaoh

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

Throughout the history of the Egyptians there where several women who came to rule their people, but none was brave or ambitious enough to assume the title of King and Pharaoh, except for Queen Hatshepsut, or more accurately put…. King Hatshapsu (dropping the “t” of the end of her name made it a masculine name instead). Before Hatshepsut there where queens who had ruled Egypt but until then ….never a female Pharaoh!

Contrary to any ancient culture, where women were expected to stay at home, women of ancient Egypt had a lot more freedom. They were allowed to own property and hold official positions, they were also given rights to inherit from deceased family members and were allowed to present their cases in court. They also played a cardinal role in the religion, where religion was integral to a ruler’s role so royal women acted as priestesses and officiated at the rites in temples.

Hatshepsut ruled Egypt between 1479-1458/57. She was a unique and intelligent individual, who brainstormed, not only to legitimize her position as pharaoh but also make herself god-like, to win the complete approval of her subjects. Due to her boldness she may have been the first to start a Feminist movement to seek out prominent women from antiquity and publicized their achievements.

Ma'at-ka-Ra Hatshepsut was the eldest daughter to Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose, the first king and queen of the Thutoside clan of the eighteenth dynasty. Upon the death of her father, Hatshepsut married her half-brother, Thutmose II, and assumed the title of Great Royal Wife. They had one daughter, Neferure, who Hatshepsut groomed to take over the roles she played as queen. Upon his death Thutmose II left behind a very young Thutmose III (born to Isis a lesser wife of Thutmose II) to succeed him. Being too young to assume the tasks of pharaoh, Hatshepsut became his regent not long before she proclaimed herself Pharaoh.

After the Oracle of Amun pronounced that the will of the god Amun was that Hatshepsut should become Pharaoh; she adopted many male attributes. She assumed all the regalia and symbols of the pharaonic office: the Khat head cloth, topped with the uraeus, the traditional false beard and shendyt kilt.
Welcome my sweet daughter, my favorite, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare Hatshepsut. Thou art the Pharaoh, taking possession of the Two Lands

She ruled for about twenty years gloriously, during which Egypt witnessed a long period of prosperity. She was also known to be a strong, fair and just ruler. Besides being the only female pharaoh to erect the most monuments during her reign, the projects she commissioned took Ancient Egyptian architecture to higher standards that set the calibre for the pharaohs that succeeded her. The first and the most beautiful of the temples in the Valley of the Kings was her great mortuary temple Djeser-Djeseru. It is the focal point of the complex at Deir al-Bahari on the west bank of the Nile, opposite the city of Luxor.

Although she was known to be a peaceful queen, she made some conquests notably the expedition to the Land of Punt (perhaps present day Somalia) She re-established trading relations that were lost during a foreign occupation by the Hyksos, bringing great wealth to Egypt. The expedition to Punt brought back myrrh, frankincense, woods, sweet-smelling resin, ivory, spices, gold, ebony, ivory and aromatic trees, this was the first ever recorded attempt to replant foreign trees.

Hatshepsut was also the first Pharaoh to erect an obelisk; she had two erected in front of her temple yet only one still stands today, as the tallest surviving ancient obelisk on Earth. She is also the owner of “the Unfinished Obelisk” in Aswan as it establishes how obelisks were quarried.

With all her success and accomplishments she disappeared from history after about twenty years of her reign. To this day no one knows how and when she died exactly, or where her mummy is buried. However, if the recent identification of her mummy in KV60 is correct, CT scans of the mummy indicate that she died of metastatic bone cancer in her 50s.

Depicted in many novels and films, whether as a wicked step mother or a romantic amiable queen, it is undeniable that she was the first great woman in History!

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Sun Queen

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

Best known for being called "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World," and one of Egypt's more powerful queens to have ruled. Her acclaim is credited to her iconic bust that is on display at The Berlin's Altes Museum.

The lovely sculptured face of Queen Nefertiti was found in the workshop of the famed sculptor Thutmose. In 1913, the German archaeologist, Ludwig Borchardt, listed it among his findings but mentioned that it was a worthless piece of gypsum and hid it in a box, in an attempt to smuggle it out of Egypt. It now attracts half a million visitors yearly and is regarded as a supreme artifact of the Pharaonic era.

The bust is in fact made of limestone and the queen's features were painted on and still exhibit their vivid colors. She is depicted with full lips embellished with bold red. The perfectly preserved sculpture is flawed except for a broken left ear and the missing crystal inlay of the left eye. Both her eyelids and brows are outlined in black. A significant feature of the bust is her gracefully swan-like elongated neck and the yellow-brown color of her smooth skin. The flat-top crown on her head and her necklace display vibrant colors that set this bust apart from any other.

Queen Nefertiti (1370 BC - 1330 BC) became queen when she was fifteen years old, when she married King Amenhotep IV (later changing his name to Akhenaton). She reigned along side her husband for a mere 12 years but together they managed to make many fundamental changed to Egyptian history.
Little is known about Queen Nefertiti before she came to the thrown, yet she continues to captivate the world with her beauty! Although her parentage is not known for certainty but it is generally believed that she was the daughter of Kheperkheprure Ay, who later became pharaoh after the sudden death of the boy king Tutankhamen.

The name Nefertiti means, "The beautiful, one has arrived," and when she later changed it to consolidate her husband's newly adopted religion, she called herself, Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti meaning, “The Aten is radiant of radiance [because] the beautiful one has arrived". She carried many titles, as seen from an inscription at the Temple of Karnak:
Heiress, Great of Favors, Possessed of Charm, Exuding Happiness, Mistress of Sweetness, beloved one, soothing the king's heart in his house, soft-spoken in all, Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, Great King's Wife, whom he loves, Lady of the Two Lands, Nefertiti'.

The major change that Pharaoh Akhenaton and his Queen Nefertiti brought to their people was a new religion. Different from their polytheistic religion, they introduced only one god, Aten, the sun disc, and only through the royal pair could the full blessings of the god bestow the people. They also moved the capitol of Egypt from Thebes, where it had been for centuries, north to Akhetaon in Tell- el Amarna. For these reasons they were fairly unloved by their subjects.

King Akhenaton was known to have suffered form Marfan Syndrome (characterized by unusually long limbs), but Queen Nefertiti devoted herself to loving and caring for her deformed and sickly husband. It was very evident that the pair was inseparable and very much in love, shown in many pictures to be embracing. Nefertiti bore six daughters within 10 years of her marriage. Two of her daughters became queens of Egypt, and she was also step-mother to Tutankhamen.

Queen Nefertiti was like no other queen of Egypt, she may have been one of the most powerful queens to have ever ruled. She was shown to be wearing the crown of a pharaoh and also depicted in scenes of battle, something that was only reserved for male rulers.

But after the 14th year of Akhenaton's rule, Nefertiti disappears from view. To date, the mummy of this famous and iconic queen has not been found. The ultimate fate of Nefertiti's body has long been a subject of curiosity and speculation. There maybe several assumptions for this, the most simple of which is that she died. It is also thought that she may have assumed a male identity and ruled after her husband's death until his predecessor Tutankhamen came of age and took the thrown.

Mystery surrounds Nefertiti, the Sun Queen, but with the many still undiscovered treasures hidden in Egypt, we never know what the future may reveal.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem

Monday, May 25, 2009

Alexandria, the Pearl of the Mediterranean.

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

After entering Egypt, in January 331BC the Egyptians hailed Alexander the Great as their ruler, pharaoh and god. He sailed down the western branch of the Nile to inspect the Greek trading colony of Naucratis, but he saw no space for development there, so Alexander pressed on toward the coast to reach the Egyptian fort of Rhakotis referred to by both Herodotus and Thucydides, close to Lake Mareotis where a narrow ridge divides its waters from the sea. He had arrived on the coast at a site mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey: "Out of the sea where it breaks on the shores of Egypt rises an island from the waters: the name men give it is Pharos" (Odyssey IV.354-355). Alexander noticed the deep waters of its well-sheltered, natural harbor and saw opportunity. Alexandria was to be the capital of his new Egyptian dominion and a naval base from where he would control the Mediterranean.

In ancient times, Alexandria was one of the most famous cities in the world. Founded around a small pharaonic town it became and remained Egypt's capital for nearly a thousand years, until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 AD when a new capital was founded at Fustat (Fustat was later absorbed into Cairo).

During Alexandria's heydays it was the leading cultural centre of the world, housing people of different religions and philosophical orientations. It was famous for the extensive library, which in the 3rd century BC was said to contain 500,000 volumes. Additionally, Alexandria was renowned for the lighthouse of Pharos, listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as antiquity. Alexandria's Mouseion was a centre of research, with laboratories and observatories. Alexandria was the very first centre for Biblical studies, and it was where the Old Testament was assembled in a form very similar to its present one. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was produced there too plus it was also home to the largest Jewish community in the world, but most have now migrated to Israel. It was (and remains today) the seat of a patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Although Alexandria witnessed a 1,000 years of prosperity, it then fell into decline over a time span covering centuries, and when Napoleon landed, he found a sparsely populated fishing village. It wasn't until in 1819 the city gradually regained importance, when the Mahmudiyah Canal to the Nile was completed by Muhammad Ali Pasha (the Ottoman Governor of Egypt), who developed Alexandria as a deepwater port and a naval station.

Very little of the ancient city has survived into the present day. Much of the royal and civic quarters sank beneath the harbor due to earthquake subsidence, and the rest has been built over in modern times.

Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt, known as "The Pearl of the Mediterranean", and it has an atmosphere that is more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern; its ambience and cultural heritage separate it from the rest of the country although it is actually only 225 km. from Cairo.
Through out its history Alexandria has been invaded by many a different culture. Starting with Julius Caesar in 47 BC and was under Roman influence for more than a hundred years. With the persecution of pagans by newly Christian Romans, in 391 Emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of all pagan temples in Alexandria. In 619, Alexandria fell to the Sassanid Persians but was recovered by the Byzantine Emperor Heracles in 629, and in 641 the Arabs under the general Amr ibn al-As, captured it after a siege that lasted fourteen months. Napoleon's troops stormed the city on July 2, 1798 and it remained in their hands until in 1801 when the British expedition won a considerable victory over the French at the Battle of Alexandria, but after 6 months and a siege of the city it fell back to the French.
The city gradually regained some of its former glory after Mohammed Ali Pasha rebuilding the city around 1810. During the 17th century, the plague killed many of the cities inhabitants. Then again in July 1882 the city came under bombardment from British naval forces and was occupied. In July 1954, the city was a target of an Israeli bombing campaign that later became known as the Lavon Affair. Although during the 19th century many foreigners settled in Alexandria, and in 1907 they made up about 25% of the population. During World War II, as the chief Allied naval base in the Mediterranean, Alexandria was bombed by the Germans.

Today Alexandria remains one of the most beautiful cities in the country and popular summer destination for most Egyptians, attracted by its 32 km (20 mile) coast line.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Vanished Tomb

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

"Horus, the strong ruler, he who seizes the lands of the foreigners, beloved of Amun and the chosen one of Ra - meryamun setepenra Aleksandros".

Alexander the Great's image was replicated all over Egypt in both monumental statuary and delicate relief, he appeared in the company of the Egyptian gods wearing traditional Egyptian dress including the rams horns of Amun as worn by pharaohs including Amenhotep III before him.

Although the cause of his death is still a mystery, Alexander the Great, the Macedonian King and great conqueror, died at the age of 33, on June 10, 323 BC in Babylon (modern Iraq).

In 331 BC he left Egypt for Babylon and on his way back to Macedonia he became ill, with fever. It may have been from malaria or perhaps of being poisoned, but with in a few days he died suddenly, without designating a successor.

On his deathbed he asked for his generals and gave his ring to Perdikkas, who was appointed regent of the empire until Alexander's queen, Roxane, gave birth to their child. This child, Alexander IV inherited his father's Empire only briefly, for he and his mother were assassinated by Cassander, who assumed the throne my marrying Thessaloniki, Alexander the Great's sister. In the wake of Alexander’s death and with the endless conflicts among his successors, his body played a symbolic role which influenced the power struggles of these men and eventually led to the fall of the Macedonian Empire.

Yes the cause of his death was a puzzle but the real enigma was the actual disappearance of Alexander the Great’s mummified body and tomb! No one can claim to have seen this tomb after the end of the 4th century and locating the place where Alexander is buried seems to have become an impossible mission for archeologists.

Perdikkas, is thought to have commissioned a magnificent funerary cart for the soul purpose of transporting the mummified remains of Alexander the Great back to Aigai, the old Macedonian capital, for burial. The body was placed in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus which was then encased in a second gold casket and covered with a purple robe. Alexander's coffin was placed, together with his armor, in a richly decorated gold carriage which had a vaulted roof supported by an Ionic peristyle.

By which time Ptolemy Lagos, one of Alexander’s generals, had secured the wealthy territory of Egypt for himself, attacked the funerary procession carrying Alexander's body and redirecting it to Memphis in Egypt, where Alexander was initially buried. It was later moved by Ptolemy II Philadelphos, the son of the first Ptolemy, to Alexandria. After an elaborate ceremony, the body was laid to rest in a Mausoleum called Soma or Sema, an ancient Greek word meaning “dead Body”.

Alexander the Greats tomb was in public display for almost 600 years and was visited by many important personalities such as the Roman emperors Augustus and Julius Ceasar, as well as common tourists. Although Alexander was laid to rest in a golden sarcophagus, King Ptolemy IX replaced it by one made of glass, as he melted down the gold one in order to strike emergency gold coinage.

The tomb was eventually closed to the public by Septimus Severus (early third century AD) out of concern for its safety on account of the hoards of tourists who came to visit the site. By the 4th century, the location of Alexander's tomb was lost. The oblivion lasted until the 19th century, when the Egyptian astronomer Mahmud el-Falaki attempted to locate the tomb. According to El-Falaki the tomb would have been located under the mosque of Prophet Daniel, where he was not allowed to dig. But most archaeologist are convinced that he was buried in Alexandria, the city that he founded in Egypt.

Others have tried to find the tomb, but to no avail! In 1737 a Danish sea captain by the name of Norden visited the city and tried but failed to locate the tomb. James Bruce came in 1768, but his efforts were also in vain. At the end of the 18th century, Sestrini visited the city looking for the Alexander the Great's tomb, but he was shown the Attarine mosque.

Until today no one can be sure where the tomb of one of the greatest men who changed history lies, but besides Alexandria, there have been claims that he rests in Asia, Macedonia, and the Siwa Oasis. There has even been a wild allegation that Alexander the Great could be buried "down under" in Broome in Western Australia!