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