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Alexandria Cruises

About Alexandria, Egypt

Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, magnificent Alexandria boasts a storied past. Queen Cleopatra ruled her kingdom of Egypt from here for a time. And its soaring Lighthouse of Alexandria, or Pharos, long since collapsed, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Spread at the mouth of Egypt’s Nile River, this historic port grew into a center of education and the second most powerful city in the world after Rome. It remained the capital of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Egypt for a millennium until the Arab conquest in 641 AD. Alexandria’s magnificent library was the largest in the ancient world; international scholars flocked here in search of knowledge. A stunning modern library has replaced it, rising dramatically from the shore. The ancient amphitheater, too, provides a glimpse of the city under Rome.

Some scholars think it a tragedy that the Egyptian capital was moved from here to Cairo. But that didn’t stop Alexandria from evolving into one of North Africa’s most glorious cities, with its sweeping seaside Corniche, European-style Belle Époque architecture and a romantic Mediterranean atmosphere that has long made poets and writers swoon. As for the ancient city, much of it lies underwater, a remarkable time capsule of a past era.

Alexandria Lifestyle and Culture

With its picturesque seaside locale, Alex, as it is known to locals, exudes a more relaxed atmosphere than Cairo, its counterpart farther up the Nile. Still today, it is highly regarded as a center of learning. Its numerous colleges and universities lend the city a sophisticated air. Among locals, a favor or deed may get pushed off to bukra (tomorrow) with the wave of a hand. And Egyptians have forever placed the fate of their days in Allah’s hands, meeting polite well wishes with “Inshallah,” meaning “God willing.” Few cultures are as social as Egypt’s. Men (most often) gather at cafés to trade news of the day over mint tea and a puff or two on a hookah. When they meet, they exchange elaborate greetings before getting down to substantial issues, perhaps kissing and holding hands. Women, too, must hear every last detail of each other’s families when they meet in the marketplace.

Egyptian culture, of course, stretches back millennia. Nowhere are Alexandria’s rich traditions more prevalent than at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria), a testament to the city’s past as a center of learning and a repository of history and culture in its own right. Egyptian music, too, has a long past. The harp, flute, ney (a long wind instrument) and oud (a pear-shaped stringed instrument) have all endured over the centuries; strains of each can be heard even in modern music. Egypt is also considered the international center for belly dancing, and no visit here is complete without witnessing this colorful and energetic art form.

Alexandria Sights and Landmarks

Ancient Alexandria was in a near-constant state of war. A major earthquake in 365 AD and shifting waters submerged much of it in the sea. For these reasons, few relics or remains from its earliest days have survived. One of the most notable ancient remains is Pompey’s Pillar, a salute to the Roman emperor Diocletian’s victory during a revolt by the people of Alexandria. The monolithic column is one of the largest ever erected. Nearby, the ancient city’s catacombs are accessed by a spiral staircase that descends underground. These dozens of chambers were long buried until they were discovered by accident in 1900.

A trio of houses of worship reflects the diverse beliefs and traditions of Alexandria’s people through the ages. The elaborate El-Mursi Abul Abbas Mosque is a stunning and ornate work of architecture dedicated to its namesake Sufi saint, entombed within. The Church of St. Catherine serves the Christian population; Alexandria was the third most important city to Christians after Rome and Constantinople. Notably, Alexandria was home to the largest Jewish population in the world in ancient times. Today, Jews are far fewer in number; yet the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue stands proudly.

Alexandria Entertainment and Activities

The best way to get oriented to Alexandria is with a stroll along its picturesque Corniche, a popular promenade along the sweeping bay. The walkway leads to the grand Qait Bey, an enormous fortress that has overlooked the harbor since the late 15th century. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is another must-see. An impressive legacy of the largest library in the ancient world, it can house 8 million volumes and has a reading room of 220,000 square feet. Its grounds include museums, art galleries, a planetarium and spectacular walls of Aswan granite with carvings from 120 different written languages.

The Alexandria National Museum, too, is a chronicle of history and culture. Its focus, however, is on Egypt, and its 1,800 artifacts are fascinating to explore. The Greco-Roman Museum chronicles the presence of the Greeks and Romans in Alexandria and in Egypt. To peruse a more artful side of the city, visit the Museum of Fine Arts or the Royal Jewelry Museum, each housing fine collections of skillfully wrought pieces.

Alexandria Restaurants and Shopping

Reflecting its past, Alexandria offers a rich menu of Greek, French, British and of course Egyptian cuisine. Dining is a social affair in Egypt. Lavish banquets have been enjoyed here since the days of pharaohs. Mezze, a selection of small and flavorful plates for sharing, is popular at the nation’s restaurants, as are chicken, salads and fuul (fava beans). Freshly baked pita bread finds a place at every table. Egyptians are also known for their sweet tooth, as the many bakeries will attest.

Fascinating shops line the streets of Alexandria. For an impressive selection of antiques that no doubt have intriguing stories to tell, absorb the subdued atmosphere of Sayed el-Safty. Or choose a more bustling experience among the many alleyways and warrens of the Attareen Antique Market. And immerse yourself in local life at the Souk Ibrahimiyya, where Alexandrians bargain over fresh-as-can-be produce, seafood and meats.