Alexandria Travel Guide
About The City Of Alexandria
The jewel of the Mediterranean Sea, the second largest and most important city in Egypt after Cairo, and one of the most distinguished destinations in Egypt. Alexandria is a city with its own type of magic. Featured with a unique blend of architecture, cultures, monuments, Alexandria is one of the oldest cities in Egypt and one of the most popular among Egyptians and tourists all the same.
Modern Alexandria, the main Mediterranean port of Egypt and the country’s second largest city, lies on a narrow strip of land between the coast and a lagoon known as Lake Mariut. Originally founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, the town became a busy port and centre for Greek culture during the Ptolemaic Period, during which time the famous Pharos lighthouse was constructed. It was also during this time that the Great Library of Alexandria was established to house what would become the largest collection of ancient manuscripts in the classical world. Sadly the library was reported to have burned down, along with an irreplaceable collection of papyri during the third century BC.
Many of the structures in the northern part of Alexander’s great new modern city have now vanished beneath the waters of the Western Harbour. The major public buildings of the time were affected by subsidence, causing them to sink into the sea and they were lost to modern explorers before the early years of the 20th century when several major discoveries were made to the north and west of the present coastline.
Recent excavations have brought to light many of the earliest monuments, thanks to the technological advances in underwater archaeology over the past decade. Teams headed by Jean-Yves Empereur and Franck Goddio, as well as the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities’ Department of Underwater Archaeology have already made many exciting discoveries, especially in Alexandria’s eastern harbour.
During the time of Alexander, the city was divided up into five areas, including a royal quarter called the ‘Brocheon’. There is evidence that the city had been established near an existing Egyptian village with a small harbour called Raqote and it was probably in this quarter that the native Egyptians lived.
From the time of Alexander’s death in 323 BC, the city flourished, becoming the capital under Egypt’s Ptolemaic rulers until the death of Cleopatra VII when the country was absorbed into the Roman Empire. The area around the eastern harbour became more important during the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods and it is these monuments which are the most prominent today.
It has recently been announced that the dream of the world’s first underwater archaeological museum may soon be realised in Alexandria Harbour, in order to make the monuments in the bay accessible to everyone. At present, the planned museum is still at the funding and logistics stage, but happily, sewage outlets into the archaeological area of the harbour have already been closed off permanently in an attempt to make the murky water clearer.
The planned museum is to be on three floors, the first displaying statues and finds onshore, another with exhibits in an ‘aquarium’ environment and the last, along with the sea bed into the bay, constructed as a plexiglass tunnel that will provide a window onto Cleopatra’s sunken town. An ambitious project indeed, which is hoped to be completed around 2023.