An age-old eastern Mediterranean metropolis of nearly two and a half millennia, Alexandria is Egypt's second-largest city; an important, burgeoning industrial center; and the country's principal port. It also has survived as a romantic myth, as "the universal metropolis," the city at the center of the world. A race against time is presently taking place between developers, bent on constructing the future, and archaeologists, preoccupied with unearthing and salvaging the past. At stake are real estate and the urgent attention to urban growth and development, on the one hand, and the ongoing discovery of an unequaled heritage, on the other hand. Beneath the contemporary Egyptian urban sprawl are layers of history: the Hellenistic city, a direct heir of Egyptian pharaonic civilization; the imperial Roman town; the city of the Late Roman Empire; the Islamic city of Arabs, Mamluks, and Ottomans; and much of the European town of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Alexandria is a palimpsest on which all of its ages have left their marks. It has also been seen at different times as a model of cosmopolitanism and as a micro society planted on foreign soil and has known extraordinary cultural creativity and been a place of memory and a city haunted by legends. It has experienced ancient and modern colonization, imperialism, and nationalism in peculiar ways.
[...] In 1805 Muhammad Ali, originally a Macedonian merchant from Cavalla turned mercenary war chief, took the reigns of power in Egypt and became its Ottoman viceroy. He nursed imperial ambitions for which he needed a modern maritime port. He decided to resurrect and transform Alexandria to that purpose. Between 1810 and 1839, the port was reconstructed, the city opened up to large-scale Mediterranean immigration, and the Mahmudiya Canal to the Nile dug to provide a dependable water supply. In less than a generation, a modern infrastructure had been created. [...]
[...] Egyptianization, Arabization, agrarian reform and land conﬁscations, state socialism, restrictions on the private sector, and the closing of the stock exchange (which had once rivaled Liverpool's) have made contemporary Alexandria a largely monoglot and Muslim city. In 1977, during bread riots in the city, the former stock exchange burned down. It has not been rebuilt. The modern glory of Alexandria has passed away. Three or four generations of fortunes won and lost, of a city's romance that blossomed and withered, of a brief moment of recapturing a glorious past are now little more than memories. [...]
[...] In the period of late Roman history, Alexandria became a center of Christian theology and church government in which the patriarch of the city played a major role in the spread of the religion and in its persecution of paganism, which apparently included the destruction of the Bibliotheca in AD 391. The Arab Muslim conquerors of Egypt integrated Alexandria into the caliphate in AD 642 and made it a Muslim city, but they also inherited a historical city and the memory of its founder, Alexander, whom they called dhu l'qarnayn (the man of two horns). [...]
[...] Location and History Some thirty cities in the world bear the name of Alexandria and claim the Macedonian king, Alexander the Great (356–323 Aristotle's most famous pupil, as their real or legendary founder. Egypt's Alexandria (Greek, Aleksandreia; Coptic, Rakota; French, Alexandrie; Arabic, al-Iskandariyya) has a bona ﬁde right to the claim. In 331 BC, on his way to becoming the conqueror of much of Asia and to his early death in Babylon, Alexander needed a harbor and a city to consolidate the conquest of his Mediterranean ﬂank. [...]
[...] Alexandria today The heart of the modern city remains Ramlah Station on Saad Zaghlul Square, with its monumental statue to the Egyptian nationalist leader, at once a terminal for tramways and a center of cinemas, restaurants, cafés, bookshops, and newspaper kiosks. It is probably there in Roman times that Cleopatra began the construction of the Caesareum for Antony that was completed by their enemy Octavius. A 1939 landmark, the renovated Cecil Hotel, where Somerset Maugham,Winston Churchill, and the British Secret Service, among others, stayed, overlooks the square. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee