ALEXANDRIA, “Pearl of the Mediterranean”
With a population of 4.1 million, is the second-largest city in Egypt, and is the country’s largest seaport, serving about 80% of Egypt’s imports and exports. Alexandria is also an important tourist resort. Alexandria extends about 32 km (20 miles) along the coast of the Mediterranean sea in north-central Egypt. It is home to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (the new Library of Alexandria), and is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria was also an important trading post between Europe and Asia, because it profited from the easy overland connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
In ancient times, Alexandria was one of the most famous cities in the world. It was founded around a small pharaonic town 331 BC by Greek Macedonian king Alexander the Great. It remained Egypt’s capital for nearly a thousand years, until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 AD when a new capital was founded at Fustat (Fustat was later absorbed into Cairo). Alexandria was known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), the Library of Alexandria (the largest library in the ancient world) and the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages). Ongoing maritime archaeology in the harbor of Alexandria, which began in 1994, is revealing details of Alexandria both before the arrival of Alexander, when a city named Rhakotis existed there, and during the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. Alexander’s chief architect for the project was Dinocrates. Alexandria was intended to supersede Naucratis as a Hellenistic center in Egypt, and to be the link between Greece and the rich Nile Valley. An Egyptian small town, Rhakotis, already existed on the shore and was a resort filled with fishermen and pirates. A few months after the foundation, Alexander left Egypt for the East and never returned to his city. After Alexander departed, his viceroy, Cleomenes, continued the expansion of Alexandria. After the death of Alexander a struggle took place between his successors, eventually his general Ptolemy succeeded in bringing Alexander’s body to Alexandria. Though Cleomenes was mainly in charge of seeing to Alexandria’s continuous development, the mainland quarters seem to have been primarily Ptolemaic work. Inheriting the trade of ruined Tyre and becoming the center of the new commerce between Europe and the Arabian and Indian East, the city grew in less than a generation to be larger than Carthage. In a century, Alexandria had become the largest city in the world and for some centuries more, was second only to Rome. It became the main Greek city of Egypt, with an extraordinary mix of Greeks from many cities and backgrounds.
Alexandria was not only a center of Hellenism but was a cosmopolitan city. The early Ptolemies kept it in order and fostered the development of its museum into the leading Hellenistic center of learning(Library of Alexandria) but were careful to maintain the distinction of its population’s three largest ethnicities: Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian. From this division arose much of the later turbulence, which began to manifest itself under Ptolemy Philopater who reigned from 221–204 BC. The reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon from 144–116 BC was marked by purges and civil warfare.
The city passed formally under Roman jurisdiction in 80 BC, according to the will of Ptolemy Alexander but only after it had been under Roman influence for more than a hundred years. In 115 AD Alexandria was destroyed during the Jewish-Greek civil wars which gave Hadrian and his architect, Decriannus, an opportunity to rebuild it. In 215 AD the emperor Caracalla visited the city and, because of some insulting satires that the inhabitants had directed at him, abruptly commanded his troops to put to death all youths capable of bearing arms. On 21 July 365, Alexandria was devastated by a tsunami (365 Crete earthquake), an event two hundred years later still annually commemorated as “day of horror”.
In 619, Alexandria fell to the Sassanid Persians. Although the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius recovered it in 629, in 641 the Arabs under the general Amr ibn al-As, captured it after a siege that lasted fourteen months. Alexandria figured prominently in the military operations of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798. French troops stormed the city on July 2, 1798 and it remained in their hands until the arrival of the British expedition in 1801. The British won a considerable victory over the French at the Battle of Alexandria on March 21, 1801, following which they besieged the city which fell to them on 2 September 1801. Mohammed Ali, the Ottoman Governor of Egypt, began rebuilding the city around 1810, and by 1850, Alexandria had returned to something akin to its former glory. In July 1882 the city came under bombardment from British naval forces and was occupied. In July 1954.
Alexandria has a Mediterranean climate mild rainy winter, hot humid summers. January and February are the coldest months with high temperatures ranging from 12°C (53°F) to 18°C (64°F). Alexandria experience violent storms, rain and sometimes hail. July and August are the hottest months of the year with a monthly average high temperature of 31°C (87°F). While autumn and spring are the ideal time to visit Alexandria with temperatures averaging 22°C (71°F).