Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in 332 B.C. It grew from a small seaport to a majestic city in ancient Egypt. Today, Alexandria is a vital industrial centre largely due to its oil and natural gas pipelines. As a tourist destination, it captivates visitors with monuments such as Fort Qaitbey on the site of the former lighthouse, Pharos, symbol of the city and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Alexandria summons tourists, scholars and historians to discover how life has unfolded, from Alexander’s ancient plan to fulfilment of a dream in the modern city.
Alexandria was the world’s first melting pot of cultures, where Greek philosophers debated with Egyptian holy men, and their wisdom spawned discussions that have influenced both the Western world and Islam to this very day. The city attracted scholars, and the Great Library constructed by the Ptolemaic dynasty amassed a collection of approximately 500,000 books before its destruction by fire in 48 B.C. It was rebuilt in 2002 as a cultural centre with museums, art galleries and, of course, one of the world’s most impressive libraries with space to house 8 million books. Artists, poets and writers still make Alexandria their home, preserving the city’s focus on cultural events and the arts.
People and Traditions
Egyptians are known for their charm and hospitality. They enjoy building relationships, and the integrity of the family is highly valued.
The majority of the people practise Sunni Islam, while a small percentage are Coptic Christians. One of Alexandria’s most important landmarks is the pilgrimage site of the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque. You may enter and enjoy intricate mosaics adorning the halls and wood carvings in the interior of the dome; however, you will be expected to remove your shoes and cover your head before entering this sacred place. Men and women enter through separate doors.
Ramadan is a holy month for Egyptians nationwide—a time to fast during daylight hours and pray, be charitable and strengthen relationships with loved ones. If you visit Alexandria during the feast of Ramadan, you may find that many restaurants are closed in the daytime during that period.
Most Muslims refrain from consuming alcohol; therefore, a number of restaurants in Alexandria do not serve alcohol.
Ideal times for visiting Alexandria are spring, with temperatures in the mid-20s°C, and autumn, a bit lower between 10-20°C. The summer months of June through September see highs of 30°C in August. The coolest season is from December through mid-March; temperatures can dip to 8-9°C in January and February. October is the rainiest month.
History buffs delight in exploring Roman Alexandria, old forts and the rich heritage of neighbouring fishing villages such as Abu Kir, and nearby sites like El Alamein, where battles ensued during World War II’s North Africa Campaign. Alexandria’s National Museum is also a perfect place to delve into the heritage of the city.
The main souq (marketplace) inhabits the backstreets of central Alexandria—it is where the locals themselves shop. Wander through the alleys and you will get a glimpse of the soul of the city. You will find very few souvenirs here; rather you will discover the spices, fresh produce and interesting domestic ornaments and gadgets that are important to Alexandrians.
For experienced scuba divers, the city’s harbours contain artifacts left behind after a series of earthquakes decimated the Roman city. Some relics have been retrieved and placed in museums, but many are still submerged and may be observed. Simply contact one of Alexandria’s diving clubs.
Visit the Montazah Palace Gardens lined with splendid flower beds, palm trees and manicured lawns to find tranquility and relaxation from your travels.
Alexandria is a study in antiquity. Pompey’s Pillar was built on the ruins of the Temple of Serapis, and it is the city’s only ancient monument still standing. The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa are equally captivating, comprising a maze of tombs on three levels, built in the second century B.C.
Explore local flavours at one of many seafood eateries or cafes along the Corniche. Enjoy fine dining at Sea Gull or the Fish Market restaurant with outstanding views of the harbour. Nightlife is very much alive in Alexandria. Just after dusk, the coffeehouses of the Anfushi district are vibrant with laughter and conversation. Or enjoy live music and cocktails while gazing at the sea at the San Giovanni Hotel overlooking Stanley Beach.
Escape to the beach at one of the outlying resorts for a day. Or for an unforgettable treat, delight in a day trip from Alexandria to Giza to see the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid, another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.