Alexandria Travel Guide
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. and has a unique history quite different from many other cities in Egypt. When this famous Macedonian (the Greek state, not the former Yugoslav country) was en route to visit the Oracle Temple of Amun at the Siwa oasis, he stopped overnight at the village of "Re-qdt" (its Greek name is "Racotis") between the Mediterranean Sea and the Lake of Mariott (its location today is the area of Tel Bab Sadrah or Karmouz). Alexander decided that this location would be where a great city would be built and charged one of his architects, Democrats, to make it.
Alexander continued to Siwa to consult the oracle about his destiny and left Egypt to fight the Persians in Asia. Sadly, what the Oracle told Alexander is not known, but it is generally believed that he was told he was to be a great leader. After his triumphal campaigns, Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 B.C. without ever seeing the city that bears his name; in fact, it was not until the reigns of Ptolemy I (Soter "the Saviour") and his successor Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) that the building of the city was completed. It became the principal capital of the region.
Alexander's architect, Dinocratis, planned the city in squares like a chessboard, with two main streets interlaced vertically and horizontally, extending from east to west and north to south. Alexandria's initial design had five districts, each one named after a letter of the first five letters in the Greek Alphabet: A (Alpha), B (Beta), G (Gamma), D (Delta), and E (Epsilon). These five letters represent the initial letters of the text: "Alexander the king, the descendant of the gods, erected the city."
- Alpha was the royal district where the royal palaces, the main temple, the museum, the libraries, and the gardens were built.
- Beta was the district of the Greek aristocracy.
- Gamma was dedicated to the settlement of the Greek commoners.
- Delta was the district of foreign minorities such as the Syrians, the Persians, and the Jews. Epsilon was the district for the native Egyptians.
Drinking water was supplied by a canal starting from the western Canopic branch of the Nile, at a point called "Shedia," about 27 km south of Alexandria. The water was stored in cisterns, some of which remain in modern times.
At the beginning of the Roman period, about 30 B.C., a new city was built here by the Romans, bearing the name of "Nicopolis," which means the city of victory, to commemorate the victory of Octavian over Mark Anthony in Aktium in 31 B.C. Unfortunately, most of Nicopolis was destroyed or vanished due to disturbances, civil wars, revolts, natural disasters, subsoil water flooding, unplanned urbanization, and other factors.
The fabulous monuments mentioned by ancient Greek books are the Enclosure Walls and the Gates of the City, the Lighthouse, the Great Library, the Royal Necropolis, the Tomb of Alexander, and the Museums. Today, the remaining monuments of ancient Alexandria are different cemeteries scattered in various locations, some of which date back to the Ptolemaic period: El-Shatby, Moustafa Kamel, El-Anfoushy, and El-Wardian. Others date back to the Roman period: the tombs of Kom El-Shouqafa (the Catacombs), the tomb of Tigran, Pompeii’s pillar, the Tomb of Silvago, and the cemetery of El-Qabbary which was only recently discovered. There are other important monuments in the city that date back to various periods, such as the Serapium, the Roman Theatre, the Temple of El-Ras El-Souda, the Citadel of Quaitbay, the Jewellery Museum, the Mosque of El-Naby Daniel, the Mosque of El-Moursi Abou El-Abbas and the Memorial of the unknown soldier.
Alexandria is situated on Egypt's Mediterranean coast, 179km (111 miles) north of Cairo. It is Egypt’s second-largest city, behind Cairo, but is sadly overlooked by tourists in some ways. It is accessible in many ways:
Alexandria International Airport, or El Nouzha Airport, is located 7km (4 miles) southeast of the city center. It offers services to domestic destinations within Egypt and cities across the Arab world. EgyptAir is the largest airline at the airport, operating over 50 weekly domestic and regional flights.
The future of El Nouzha was in doubt with the opening of Borg El Arab Airport. However, in early 2010, the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation announced significant plans to overhaul the airport and its facilities to ensure its future as one of the two commercial airports for the Alexandria and Nile Delta region. The airport will be closed to commercial operations by late 2011 for a significant renovation, and all traffic will be transferred to Borg El Arab airport, Alexandria’s second airport. The renovation project is expected to cost US$120 million, including lengthening the main runway (04/22) by an additional 750m and constructing a new passenger terminal to replace the existing aging facility. As of January 2016, the airport remains closed, without an estimate of when it might reopen.
Alexandria is the northern terminus for the line that runs through Cairo to Aswan, and the service to Cairo is excellent. Services are also available to Marsa Matruh via El-Alamein and Port Said.
Alexandria has a vast road network connecting it with towns to the east, the west, and south towards Cairo, including the myriad of towns in the Delta region. Cairo is reached by two main highways: The Desert Road and the Agricultural Road. Both are very busy, with the former being 6-8 lanes wide.
Alexandria has a major seaport, a popular stopping point for ocean-going cruises, and many visitors experience Egypt by arriving here.
Is Egypt Safe for Tourists? Debunking Myths and Misconceptions
"Is it safe to travel to Egypt right now?" is a common question among potential tourists, and it's understandable given the region's history of political unrest and occasional incidents of violence. However, it's essential to separate fact from fiction and recognize that the vast majority of tourists in Egypt, including Alexandria, have safe and enjoyable experiences.
First and foremost, it's important to remember that Egypt relies heavily on tourism. The government and local communities go to great lengths to ensure the safety and well-being of visitors. This includes increased security measures at tourist sites, airports, and hotels and a strong police presence in popular areas.
One common myth about Egypt is that it's a hotbed of terrorism. While there have been isolated incidents in recent years, these events are the exception rather than the rule. Furthermore, most of these incidents have occurred far away from the Sinai Peninsula or Western Desert tourist areas. The major tourist destinations, including Alexandria, Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan, have remained safe and secure.
Essential Travel Information: Health and Safety Tips for Visiting Alexandria, Egypt
When planning your visit to Alexandria, Egypt, you must be prepared and informed about health and safety concerns. The following tips can help ensure a worry-free trip:
- Vaccinations: Consult with your doctor or a travel health clinic about the recommended vaccinations for travel to Egypt. Routine vaccinations, such as measles, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis A, are generally advised. Additionally, some travelers may require vaccinations for typhoid, hepatitis B, and rabies, depending on their planned activities and specific health risks.
- Travel insurance: Don't leave home without comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical expenses, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen belongings.
- Food and water safety: To avoid foodborne illnesses, stick to bottled or purified water and avoid ice in drinks. Opt for freshly cooked, hot meals, and avoid raw or undercooked meats, seafood, and eggs.
- Sun protection: The Egyptian sun can be intense, so pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
- Dress code: Egypt is predominantly Muslim, and visitors should dress modestly to respect local customs. This means covering shoulders, knees, and cleavage, particularly when visiting religious sites.
Top Things to Do in Alexandria, Egypt: Must-See Attractions
A trip to Alexandria would only be complete with exploring its incredible historical sites and cultural attractions. Here are some of the best things to do in Alexandria, Egypt:
- Pompey's Pillar: This towering red Aswan granite column, standing at nearly 27 meters tall, symbolizes Alexandria's ancient history and is a must-see.
- Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa: These underground tombs, dating back to the 2nd century A.D., are a fascinating blend of Roman, Egyptian, and Greek architectural styles.
- Qaitbay Citadel: This impressive fortress, built on the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria site, offers stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea.
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina: A modern architectural marvel, this library and cultural center is a tribute to Alexandria's ancient status as a center of learning and knowledge.
- Montaza Palace and Gardens: This royal palace and its lush gardens are the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the beauty of Alexandria's coastline.
Alexandria, Egypt Travel Experiences: Stories from Tourists
Many travelers who've visited Alexandria, Egypt, have nothing but positive stories to share. Here are a couple of examples:
Sarah, a solo female traveler from the United States, spent a week exploring Alexandria and found the locals to be friendly and welcoming. She visited the city's top attractions, enjoyed delicious Egyptian cuisine, and felt safe throughout her trip.
Peter and his family from the United Kingdom spent two weeks in Egypt, including several days in Alexandria. They found the city to be a fascinating blend of ancient history and modern culture and appreciated the efforts made by local authorities to ensure their safety.
Conclusion: Making the Most of Your Alexandria, Egypt Adventure
In conclusion, while there are legitimate concerns and precautions to take when traveling to Egypt, Alexandria remains a relatively safe and rewarding tourist destination. You can enjoy a worry-free and unforgettable adventure in this enchanting city by staying informed, taking necessary precautions, and respecting local customs. So go ahead and start planning your trip to Alexandria, Egypt – a world of history, culture, and natural beauty awaits you!