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Alexandria Day Trip

Today I have decided to take a day tour to Alexandria, which is a coastal town approximately 3 hours from Cairo. I have joined six girls from Jamaica who are teaching English in Japan. They turn out to be a fun and they too are in their last days of their three week holiday. The six of them are also suffering from the "jaded by Egypt" syndrome even though their trip has been programmed by a travel agent. They have been disappointed mostly by the lack of communication by their travel agent in regards to different day trips and plans that have changed at the last minute. It seems to be a normal complaint from people that are on group tours organised in Egypt by Egyptian travel agents.

Our transfer from Cairo to Alexandria is via a minivan. It turns out to be a nice journey until we stop at a rest area. The van fails to start when we want to leave and we have to ask the car washers to push the car whilst the driver tries to restart the engine. This is sucessful and we continue our drive to Alexandria.

The driver tries to show us how good his skills are whilst manourvering amongst traffic that already doesn't adhere to any road rules. It is one of the scariest drives I have ever had and after twenty minutes of this mayhem I end up saying something to the driver and the guide. The other girls back me up and the driver slows down to what is more of an Italian way of driving which I can handle (still pretty crazy but not as bad as the Egyptian style).

The second largest city and the main port of Egypt, Alexandria was built by the Greek architect Dinocrates (332-331 BC) on the site of an old village, Rhakotis, at the orders of Alexander the Great. The city, immortalizing Alexander's name, quickly flourished into a prominent cutural, intellectual, political, and economic metropolis, the remains of which are still evident to this day.

It was the renowned capital of the Ptolemies, with numerous monuments. It was the site of the Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as well as the Great Library. It was along these shores that history took a tragic turn at the time of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian.

Alexandria lies north-west of the Nile delta and stretches along a narrow land strip between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Mariut (Mareotis). It is linked to Cairo by two major highways and a railroad line. It is one of the most notable summer resorts in the Middle East, for, in addition to its temperate winters, its beaches, with white sands and magnificent scenery, stretch for 140 km along the Mediterranean Sea from Abu Qir, in the east to Al-Alamein and Sidi Abdul Rahman, in the west.

The Corniche (main road along the water) reminds me a bit of Surfers Paradise. It is supposedly around 22km long and it follows the waters edge and is just one long road full of medium sized high rises. It just doesn't seem to end. Building after building built side by side with only a gap for roads that intersect with the Corniche.

Our first visit is the Amphitheater which consists of thirteen gray and white marble levels of terraces that lead down to the arena. Its buttressed wall was designed in a semicircular style to act as a passageway that ran beneath the early theater. Not far away from the theater are some ruins of the Roman baths. We all pose for photos in the ruins and the Jamaican girls give us an impromptu rendition of some Bob Marley songs in the arena.

We then drive along to Fort Qaitbey or the Citadel of Qaitbey. Although we cannot enter, it is still a beautiful sight. Built where the Lighthouse of Alexandria used to be the fort supposedly still has remains of the old lighthouse built within the construction of the fort.

We then move onto the Catacombs of Alexandria. Kom es-Shogafa or The Catacombs is a rocky plateau situated between the ancient villages of Karmuz and Minia el-Bassal which are now densley populated districts of Alexanderia where the first catacombs were discovered. Mohammad Ali used the area to defend the city and the area was destroyed in about 1850.

Then in about 1900 a donkey accident discovered an entirely undiscovered necropolis, an enormous hypogeum which dates to about the 2nd century AD. The catacombs were dug out of solid rock on three superimposed levels. The dead were lowered down the central well of a spiral staircase by ropes.

After the catacombs, we have lunch and then visit the Royal district (Eastern Harbour) where we go for a walk. We then move onto the Library of Alexandria.

In 295 BC, the Egyptian Ruler Ptolemy I Soter, commissioned the construction of the Great Library of Alexandria (one of the cultural wonders of the ancient world).

In the following years, local scientists travelled through the region to purchase books for the library. The Library held many copies of important books of the ancient world as well as the originals of Euripides and Sophocles. All human knowledge of the ancient world was stored in the Library, not just of Egypt or the Greek territories, for Ptolemy I sent his representatives throughout the known world to collect reference works.

In 48 BC, the Library and at least 40,000 scrolls were burnt when Julius Caesar attacked the city (during the Alexandrian war) and a huge fire swallowed up the ancient Library. It would seem that this was the end of the fabled library and thus the end of a legend, but 2,000 years later, after 10 years of planning, the Egyptian government and UNESCO have combined their efforts in order to revive the ancient Library. The Alexandria Library has now risen from the ashes of antiquity so that it might once more lead the world as a cultural center and a focal point for knowledge not only in Egypt, but for the world as a whole.

After looking around at the museum and checking out the Internet it was time for me to board my train back to Cairo. The Jamaican girls were spending the night in Alexandria and I wanted to get back to Cairo because I was leaving for the desert the following day.


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