I know, the title is not that great but it describes this city the best! It is just open towards the sea.
I have been in Alexandria for 2 days. Karim kindly offered to take me here on Thursday evening since he was coming for his sister’s wedding. Karim is a great driver and I felt very secure in his car but this was quite a ride. All of you that think I drive aggressively should come here for a week and I am sure you will change your mind! ;). I hope to write something on driving in Egypt later so we will keep it at that for now.
Alexandria was built by order of Alexander the Great after he conquered Egypt. It became the capital of Egypt soon after and gave it an important opening on the Mediterranean sea so much important to the Macedonian empire.
After Alexander’s death, his general Ptolemy inherited the country and initiated a new dynasty of rulers known as the Ptolemaic dynasty whose rulers were known as Ptolemy (I, II… XI) and wife as Cleopatra. The last, only female Ptolemaic ruler and the most famous Cleopatra of all was Cleopatra VII.
Alexandria has inherited this Greco-roman feel from that period as well as a cosmopolitan feel from the late XIXth and early XXth centuries. Nice pastry shops / salon de the are still here as a legacy of better days. They do serve great stuff though :).
Walking on the cornice or in the streets close by has quite been refreshing compared to my experiences in the other cities I visited. The haggling level is way down and it is very rare that people notice me at all. Since it is the weekend here (Friday and Saturday), I had the opportunity to see people enjoying it by walking in the streets in family window-browsing. The streets have actually become a huge open air market with people setting-up stools to sell whatever from fruits to cellphones!
Of course, I visited the major monuments.
I started by the Alexandria Museum that has been installed in the former American Embassy. Quite a nice building with anti-atomic bunker where the museum presents some sarcophagus and canopy jars (quite fitting!). It is a very nice museum with very nice and well presented collections on ancient Egypt, the Greco-roman period and modern Alexandria (Coptic and Islamic periods).
I then walked to a Roman amphitheatre not so far. Excavations are still going on around this very nice amphitheatre. Nothing very special about it though.
I then walked all the way West to Fort Qatbay that is built where the lighthouse once stood. They actually reused rocks from the lighthouse to build it. I really liked the place actually. Quite simple but very nice and soothing (as much as a fort located on the sea shore can!).
Since it was not that late, I then decided to walk all the way to the other side of the port to take a look at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina built where the great library was once standing. It took me around 1/2 hour walk on the cornice to get there but the view was cool so no issues. I think they did a great job with the building. It is hundreds times nicer to the Mitterrand library in Paris. Comparing might even be an insult to the Alexandrina! Really, the outside is slick and the inside is just great. They have some museums inside including yet another archaeology museum. I personally think it was not necessary to have a second museum in town since most of the items have equivalent in the Alexandria museum except for some very important pieces like a gorgeous chest of Isis in black Granite. But well, as the sucker tourist I am, I once more shelled out the money and visited the place.
This morning, I went to see Pompeii’s pillar that is just an humongous pillar carved off Aswan. Imagine that: 30 meters high, 9 meters circumference!
And then, I visited some Greco-roman catacombs. Some very interesting sights. No traces of bone though.
I am not sure where I will go next. I was thinking of going to Siwa and try to get to the Oasis of Bahareyya by 4×4 but it is not sure that I would get the authorization to do it and I am not sure I want to spend that much more time before going to Dahab so I might just go back to Cairo and organize a trip to Bahareyya from there before heading to Dahab.