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Site Descriptions: Alexandria
This famous city on the Mediterranean, was founded by the Macedonian, Alexander the Great in 331 BC when he benevolently conquered Egypt. Alexandria became the primary learning center in the ancient World and the capital city for 1000 years from the Ptolemaic to the Islamic periods when the capital was moved to a district in modern day Cairo. In the Hellenistic world, Alexandria was the greatest city in the world -- the richest, courtliest, and most beautiful -- after Rome.
On the death of the city's founder, Alexander the Great, his general Ptolemy (later, Ptolemy I, king of Egypt) returned Alexander's body to his tomb in his Egyptian city. Many paid homage to Alexander, including Julius Caesar and Octavian. Alexander's tomb was closed to the public in the 3rd c AD and its location forgotten. Alexandria was the capital of Egypt and home to the Ptolemies, until their last queen, the brilliant Cleopatra, committed suicide to evade being taken prisoner by Octavian of Rome.
During the Ptolemaic era, Alexandria was the city with the largest Jewish population, and the place where the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible was performed. Alexandria was also one of the greatest centers of learning in the ancient world and had the best library, which was unfortunately destroyed by fire, many think on purpose by the Romans under Aurelian, but it also could have been an accident, or possibly destroyed during the Arab Conquest in 642 AD when Alexandria was thankfully released from the harsh yoke of Roman rule.
Since the death of Cleopatra, began a decline that was exacerbated by Roman rule, and when the Byzantines and Andalusia (currently Spain) attempted to capture it after the Arab Conquest. It seemed to have been almost finished off by several earthquakes in the 10th, 13th, and 14th centuries (this earthquake destroyed the Pharos Lighthouse -- on of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).
Then, for a very short window in time during the Crusades, Alexandria began to flourish, its seaport becoming a major Mediterranean hub -- until 1365 when a Crusader army sacked it, throwing it into decline once again. Napoleon landed here during his famous trip to Egypt in 1798 when his savants recorded much about the ancient Egyptians, but Alexandria stayed in decline until Mohamed Ali Pasha who, in 1810 began to restore the city to its former glory. Unfortunately 70 years later, the British bombed it, throwing it into yet another decline; it was later bombed again by Israel in 1952. Now it is thriving once again as Egypt's second largest city. ,
Roman Amphitheater (Ko el-Kikka). This is a beautiful, well-preserved Roman amphitheater with 13 terraces for seating. Although this
amphitheater was built by Romans, the design influence is pure Greek design. There is a center stage at the bottom, and the rows of
mastaba-seats are placed one higher than the one below, so all of the guests may have a clear view of the performance. All of the seats
were fashioned from grey or white marble, except for the first row, which is of red granite from Aswan. The theater originally seated 700
to 800 people for various performances including plays, readings, and wrestling.
In the vicinity of the amphitheater there are: Roman baths, lecture halls, a small town with the “Villa of the Birds,” and a big house
with beautiful mosaics. In this area you will also find blocks, pillars and other ancient objects that have been recently brought up from the
depths of Alexandria’s harbor. The Ptolemies referred to this area as the "Park of Pan," the Greek god who was usually depicted with
Dionysus (the wine grape, party god), Pan was also the son of Hermes and he had a wood nymph for a mother. Pan protected herds of
animals, was a free spirit and was many times depicted as playing a lute and generally frolicking around with his nymph companions. The
joke about naming this entertainment area, the "Park of Pan," was that although he chased after nymphs quite a bit, Pan never caught
them as they were always running away from him.
Pompey’s Pillar and the Serapeum. Pompey’s Pillar was erected almost 300 years after Pompey's death and was dedicated to the
Roman Emperor, Diocletian. It is pink granite column that stands 30-mt tall, and is located in front to the Serapeum temple, which was
the cult center of Serapis: the amalgamation of the cults of the Apis bull and Osiris. The original Serapis temple was built by Ptolemy I,
the general who helped Alexander the Great conquer Egypt, freeing it from Persian domination. Ptolemy III replaced the first temple with
his own, which included a gold commemoration plaque in two languages (now in Alexandria's Graeco-Roman museum). Inside the
temple were burial vaults thought to have been created for the sacred Apis bulls and jackals, who were guardians of the ancient Egyptian
grave sites. There was also thought to have been a library here as well. Unfortunately Christians destroyed this site in the 4th c AD, so
little is left of what once was probably a fantastic site.
Anfushi Necropolis. This necropolis is located on Pharaos Island in the old Turkish section of Alexandria. There are 5 tombs cut into
limestone rock at Anfushi that date to the Ptolemaic period in the second and first centuries BCE. Depictions inside of these tombs show
how Egyptian, Macedonian and Greek art and religion amalgamated to create the unique Ptolemaic culture. These tombs are small and
have been damaged by annual flooding.
Chatby Necropolis. This is the oldest Ptolemaic cemetery in Egypt (4th c BC) and members of the first Alexandrian families were buried
here. This necropolis is within a garden containing several statues. Originally the tombs were under the earth in burial vaults, but now t
they are above the ground in the open air. The architectural design of these is based on Greek house plans, with Hellenistic aspects
thrown in. Collectively they resemble an open air museum as they are surrounded by statues and sarcophagi.
Mustafa Kamal Necropolis has 4 subterranean rock tombs in good condition and dating to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Inside the
tombs are interesting depictions of the everyday life of one who lives in the Underworld. The best tomb in this location is "Tomb I," which
has several rooms around a central courtyard-like area. In this courtyard there are Greek Doric columns, libation scenes, and small
sphinxes, is an altar facing a south wall, and behind the wall are three more rooms
Shuqfa: tombs and catacombs. The complex catacombs of Kom el-Shuqfa date to the first and second centuries AD and contain tiers
and tiers of tombs for about 300 Graeco-Romans. It is believed that this necropolis was originally build for one important Alexandrian
family, and that it was latter added on to by later Alexandrians. There were several halls inside: the Triclinium with pillars and mastaba
seating that was used for funerary banquets, the Hall of Caracalla, which contained the corpses of Christians murdered by Caracalla in
215 AD, and a chamber with Nephthys and Isis surrounding Osiris in mummy form. The lower galleys have the best tombs; they date to
the eras of Roman emperors Trajan and Domitian and have walls decorated with ancient Egyptian mixed with Graeco-Roman themes.
These scenes consist of the standard winged sun disk and uraeus together with Dionysus' pine cone staff, Egyptian deities protecting the
dead who are covered in floral wreaths with Medusa heads, and a depiction of Seth-Typhon and Anubis featured as Roman legionnaires.
The Graeco-Roman Museum has a fine collection of over 40,000 artifacts spanning the entire ancient Egyptian empire but focusing on
the Ptolemaic and Graeco-Roman periods. Some of the highlights of this collection are: an Apis bull statue found at the Serapeum,
mummified crocodiles, and statues of very interesting amalgamations of Greek and Egyptian deities. It was originally built in the late
1800s, and has been undergoing an extreme renovation since 2008. It should be re-opened in 2015 with a stunning display of Hellenistic
and ancient Egyptian artifacts.
National Museum of Alexandria. This museum is located in a beautifully refurbished old villa in the Ptolemaic-founded city of
Alexandria. It has many different exhibits: jewelry, Graeco-Roman, Egyptian, Coptic, Islamic artifacts and more. It is well worth a visit.
National Jewelry Museum in Alexandria the National Jewelry Museum houses a beautiful collection of jewels that primarily belonged
primarily to King Farouk, and Mohammed Ali Pasha (and their wives). The oriental designs are exquisite.