Captivating Alexandria city

Sunday September 9 2018

 

By JULIUS ODEKE-ONYANGO

It was annoying at the time when I was asked to leave the comfort of my hotel Al Forsan, a prestigious hotel in Cairo in order to visit to Alexandria city.
Alexandria is a city in the Mediterranean Sea, Northwest of Egypt port that portends an ancient outlook of earlier civilisation. Before long, my visit got exciting and later memorable.

Unfolding beauty
As a Christian, setting foot in Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt looked like a temporary visit to heaven. Known as, The Pearl of the Mediterranean, Alexandria is a main summer resort and tourist attraction. Its public and private beaches, ancient history and museums, especially the Bibliotheca Alexandria library which revived the ancient Library of Alexandria is captivating.
“Many locals in Alexandria fondly refer to this city as ‘Alex’. Capped with greenery, Alex has an atmosphere that is more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern, “Islam Mohammed, our tour guide, said.
The wonder library
It only takes one at least four hours to drive from Cairo to Alexandria, depending on which lane the driver chooses. The cool atmosphere warmly welcomes you. This is out of the non-humid pressure from the desert areas of Egypt.
During the Hellenistic period, it was home to a lighthouse ranking among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as well as a storeyed library. Today, the library is in the disc-shaped, ultramodern structure.
“Guess which country won the contract to design the architectural design of this famous library? Hassan Khaleem, our tour guide to the library asked, in a bid to impress the tourists who thronged the area to know what lies in this possibly biggest library in the whole world.
Most of us quickly mentioned the US, but we were wrong. “It is Norway,” the slender female guide said while pointing at various artefacts that depicted ancient technology.
The city also has Graeco-Roman landmarks, old-world cafes and sandy beaches. Being from a landlocked country where beaches are rare, I gaped at the beaches and how people enjoyed them.
Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria became the capital of Graeco-Roman Egypt, its status as a beacon of culture symbolised by Pharos.
The setting for the stormy relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Alexandria was also the centre of learning in the ancient world. But ancient Alexandria declined, and when Napoleon landed. he found a sparsely populated fishing village.
From the 19th century Alexandria took a new role, as a focus for Egypt’s commercial and maritime expansion. This, Alexandria has been immortalised by writers such as E-M- Forster and Cavafy.
Generations of immigrants from Greece, Italy and the Levant settled here and made the city synonymous with commerce, cosmopolitanism and bohemian culture.

The harbours and districts
Dinocrates built the Heptastadion. This divided the harbours into the Western and Eastern. The Eastern harbour was where the old harbour from the Middle Ages was located. Of modern Alexandria, the oldest section is along the causeway which links what was once Pharos island with the mainland and includes the districts of Gumrok (the oldest dating to about the 16th century and known as the customs district) Anfushi, and Ras el-Tin (Cape of Figs).
The latter two districts date to about the period of Mohammed Ali (1805-49). Collectively, these districts are known to westerners as the Turkish Quarter.
Mohammed said the two districts have had tumultuous and good times, due to the plague during the 17th century. The area forms somewhat a T-shape, dividing the Eastern and Western harbours.
This section of Alexandria is known to us more from books than what we may actually see in the area. Where the Pharos Lighthouse once stood, is now occupied by the Fort of Quit Bay.
It should be noted that Egyptian love their country. “The number of local tourists is gaining momentum with the youth visiting historic sites in their country,” said Mohammed. On hearing that, I wished Uganda could borrow a leaf.