Almost all cities in the world have some history to them but few can rival the length and depth of the history of Alexandria, Egypt. Although it is almost 150 miles away from the Egyptian capital of Cairo, the city is still a major center in the country for both culture and tourism. And because it is the largest seaport in Egypt, it is also one of the more important economic hubs in the nation.
The exact date isn’t known but historians estimate that Alexander the Great founded the city around the 3rd century BCE. And while Alexander’s next visit to the city was to be buried, his viceroy took over the duty of expanding it. After the city fell into Roman control in 80BCE, it was destroyed by civil wars in 115CE and then rebuilt by Hadrian. In 391CE, the Roman Emperor ordered the destruction of all pagan temples – including the Library of Alexandria.
Because of consecutive wars, sieges and natural calamities, Alexandria had become a ruin by the 18th century. A Napoleonic campaign took the city in 1798 before it fell to the British three years later. The Local Government Act of 1960 placed the city in its own mayoralty, and has since enjoyed a local government under a mayor.
Unfortunately, the long series of local conflicts combined with several natural disasters through history have wiped out many of the ancient artifacts in the city. Pompey’s Pillar in Karmouz is one of the few. Right next to the Arab cemetery of Alexandria, the 3rd century 396-ton monolith is believed to have been a part of a temple, destroyed during the Roman purges of paganism.
Kom al-Dikka is another prominent historical site, having been extensively explored in recent years. A theater and bath facilities, all from the Roman era, have been found there. The Roman catacombs at Kom-el-Shuqqafa offer another glimpse at the Roman era, and are best visited in the late afternoon or early morning.
Alexandria is host to a multitude of religious denominations. There’s the 18th century Abou el-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, the Greek Orthodox Church at Mansheya and Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral at Mahatet El Raml. The local culture is equally diverse, especially when it comes to food. Local offerings can range anywhere from traditional Egyptian taamiyya to modern Western fare like Chili’s.
Western visitors are often taken aback by the aggressive, often harassing urchins, street vendors and cab drivers in Alexandria. This is the local custom and they will often desist when remonstrated or ignored. The city is also very conservative, especially with regard to women. Female visitors should take care to keep cleavage, shoulders, midriff and thighs covered, to cover the head when entering religious areas and to avoid walking the streets alone.
Local culture and international history come together to form a unique blend in Alexandria. History buffs and adventurous tourists in particular should find the city to be one of the most interesting in the region.
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