Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt, and certainly one of the most beautiful cities of this magical country. It extends over 70 km of the seashore and reaches the status of the megalopolis, which it had in the time of the Old World. This city, also known as the “Pearl of the Mediterranean,” exudes charm and beauty that is more Mediterranean than a Middle Eastern type. Likewise, the very ambience and cultural heritage of Alexandria make it quite different from other cities of the country. But this does not mean that Alexandria will not fascinate you, just like all in Egypt.
Alexandria is indeed abundant with many sights, different architectural buildings, cultural monuments, and natural beauties, which are really worth seeing, so it’s best to spend at least 3-4 days for sightseeing when you find yourself in Alexandria. It is best to make a small list of the most interesting, the most important tourist attractions and to follow your small tour schedule because in this way you will be able to visit the most. And do not forget, while you visit all these attractions, enjoy them to feel the beautiful atmosphere and charm that this city really makes special.
In Old Alexandria, there is a Heptastadion, built by Dinocrat and representing a bridge between the Pharos island and the mainland, dividing the city into the western and eastern parts. Here is also the oldest preserved part of Alexandria, which originates from the turbulent Turkish period, known as the Turkish quarter. However, although the Egyptians do not associate with prosperity, this part of the city is extremely attractive to Westerners, because of its narrow streets, squares, bazaars, small shops and oriental sentiment, so it is very much visited. Do not miss the place where the famous Lighthouse – — one of the seven wonders of the ancient world once was. Although you will not see the Lighthouse, you can enjoy the beautiful view of the sea, which is provided from here, as well as in the sightseeing of the fortress that was built there after the lighthouse was destroyed.
At the time of Alexander the Great, Alexandria became the capital of Hellenistic Egypt. Her status of “lighthouse of culture” of that time was symbolized by the famous Pharos lighthouse. This lighthouse got the name by the eponymous peninsula on which it stood and is said to have been more than 350 feet (110 metres) high. The name is preserved, but nothing more than that.
It was built by a Greek architect Sostratus of Cnidus around 300-280 BCE. It was a technological triumph and is the archetype of all lighthouses since. The lighthouse was the second tallest human-made structure in the world (after the pyramids of Giza) and it’s light (a mirror which reflected the sun’s rays by day and a fire by night) could be seen as far as 35 miles out to sea. The structure rose from a square base to a middle octagonal section up to a circular top and those who saw it in its glory reported that words were inadequate to describe its beauty. The lighthouse was badly damaged in an earthquake in 956 CE, again in 1303 CE and 1323 CE and, by the year 1480 CE, it was gone. The Egyptian fort Quaitbey now stands on the site of the Pharos, built with some of the stones from the ruins of the lighthouse.
The legend says that the Sostratus for a long time sought the best material for building a foundation that would resist sea water, in order to eventually build its tower on huge blocks of glass.
In 1994 archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur, founder of the Centre for Alexandrian Studies (Centre d’Etudes Alexandrines), made an exciting find in the waters off Pharos Island. He mapped the location of hundreds of huge masonry blocks; at least some of these blocks are believed to have fallen into the sea when the lighthouse was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1300s. A large amount of statuary was also discovered, including a colossal statue of a king dating to the 3rd century BCE that was thought to represent Ptolemy II. A companion statue of a queen as Isis had been discovered nearby in the 1960s; these statues representing the deified Ptolemy and his wife, Arsinoe, are thought to have been placed just below the lighthouse, facing the entrance to the harbour. Based upon these finds, the Egyptian government abandoned the idea of a breakwater and planned instead an underwater park where divers could view the many statues, stone sphinxes, and remains of the lighthouse.
At the spot where was the lighthouse today stands the monumental fort of Qaitbey. Sultan Qaitbey in 1480 raised this fort from the remains of the famous lighthouse, and thus “usefully” used this old “building” material. The oldest Alexandria mosque is located within this fortress. But that’s not all you can see when you enter the fortress, because it contains two museums of very interesting collections. The first is the Underwater World Museum, in which you can see: various types of fish prepared (for most of them you never even heard!), Some of which, still look alive and very scary; skeletons of fish, and even a huge skeleton of whales; then various kinds of shells, peppers, sea stars; perhaps not very credible, mined seaside mines, with prepared fish that “float”, with sea grass, shells on the bottom …
To be able to photograph some of these really fascinating exhibits, you’ll have to pay for a permit at the museum entrance. Another museum that is also worth seeing is the Museum of Old Weapons and Military Equipment in general, where you can find different types of pistols, rifles, cannons and cannon balls, all from different periods of history. In front of the fortress, you will find many souvenir sellers, from natural seashells of various shapes and sizes, through the statues of Tutankhamun, Kleopatra, Nefertiti made in stone or alabaster, then pictures on papyrus (although souvenirs of this kind are much better in shops than in the streets) , to postcards, jewelry, various boxes made in Arabic style … And, one very useful advice – make sure you censor, because most of these prices are not really “real”, but just for tourists, so you can lower them sometimes and 2- 4, and many times.
If you continue the city tour, heading south, along the coast, you will reach Abu El-Abas Mosque, certainly the most famous, most beautiful, but also the largest mosque in Alexandria. This really beautiful building, with its high minaret and four domes, is one of the most important monuments of Islamic culture. In 1775, this mosque was built by the Algerians, at the site where the Andalusian saint from the 13th century, Ahmed Abu al-Abas al-Mursi, was buried. If you can, visit this mosque in the evening because under the lights of many reflectors it looks much nicer, more impressive, unusual and magical! Not far from it is the small and charming Mosque Terbana, as well as the Suq district, a part of the city where traders and Jews lived. Though you can still meet traders in narrow streets, Jews can not, because most of them, in 1948, emigrated to Israel. But nevertheless, it is possible to find very attractive items, from unavoidable jewellery, through Arabic medicines and herbs (Suk El-Magarba), to Bedouin clothes (Suk El-Libya).
Right next to it, there is the most famous street – Al-Horreya, which in ancient times was called the Canopic Way and it had on its eastern side the Gate of the Sun, and on the western the Gate of the Moon; and at that time, there were probably columns lining the road.
Further east, Al Horreya opens into a beautiful green area known as the Shallalat Gardens, which was once the fortification of Bab Rosetta. But in 1905, Alexandria created a garden area here with waterfalls and the only Alexandria cistern which can be viewed. This cistern is an example of those which once dotted Alexandria providing fresh water to her inhabitants.
Just south of the intersection of Al Horreya and el-Nebi Daniel was the site traditionally thought to be the burial place of Alexander the Great, but that has not been located, and may in fact be beneath the Mosque of Nebi Daniel or in a nearby Greek necropolis. The famous Alexandria Library was probably nearby. This interesting part of the city is complemented by a small Roman amphitheatre, recently excavated and the symbol of the city: the Sphinx and its companion, Pompeystub. For those who love jewels, there’s also a great Royal Jewellery Museum. Here is also the Attarine Mosque, which was once a church dedicated to Athanasius. Dating from 2nd century AD, the catacomb complex just south of Pompey’s pillar is the largest Graeco – Roman necropolis in Egypt.
Wondering along el-Nebi Daniel are several other attractions including the French Cultural Center, and nearby the Eliahu Hanabi Synagague, which is the only active synagogue in Alexandria and houses the combined treasures of the seven former Alexandrian synagogues.
Situated on the seafront Midan Saad Zaghlul is the most elegant square on the Alexandria. At the center of this square stands a statue dedicated to Saad Zaghlul, a former national leader. Opposite this monument stands a statue dedicated to Cleopatra. The park that surrounds the statue is one of the busiest in Alexandria.
On the location where now this square stands used to be the Caesareum, a magnificent temple begun by Cleopatra for her lover Anthony. In this temple, completed by her enemy Octavian, Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 BC. In the 4th century AD it became the Christian cathedral of Alexandria. In 1877 the two giant obelisks that used to stand in front of the temple, known as Cleopatra’s needles, were moved to the Thames embankment in London and to the Central Park in New York, respectively. Nothing else remains today of the Caesareum.
If you are a fan of colonial heritage, nearby is the famous Cecil Hotel, a place where giants such as Smerset Maugham, or Winston Churchill stayed. East of Al-Horeja is the Greek quarter, one of the most beautiful residential districts. The wonderful old villas include the massive Miclavez building, which is opposite the Town Hall and nearby the Adda Complex built in 1929. This is where the wealthy Greeks lived at the turn of the century. Further east is the Greek Orthodox patriarchate and the Church of St. Saba.
A walk along the Mahmudiya Canal and industrial districts of Alexandria is pleasant along the old paved road bordered by the canal and sycamore trees. South of the Greek district along the canal is the Antoniadis Gardens, which seep with history. Here, the poet Callimachus lived and taught, and in 640 AD, Pompilius prevented the King of Syria from capturing Alexandria. The well known Water Traffic Circle is also in the area.
Here one finds the Zoological Gardens, the small Museum of Natural History and the Fine Arts Museum in the Moharrem Bey area, and a Rose Garden. The beautiful public gardens extend into the surrounding area where the Antoniadis Palace is located, and there is even a nearby Roman tomb.
In a city of wonders such as Alexandria, it comes as no surprise that there still stands a district of lush soul-reviving gardens and extraordinarily-ravishing palaces where the royal family along with their exclusive guests spent their sunny summers along the Mediterranean coastline. An oasis of calm on the city’s eastern edge, Montazah is a lush haven of tall palm trees, trimmed lawns, and blossoming flowers that was once off-limits to all but the royal court. The complex, which is around from 360 acres in size, is a beautiful property that overlooks Al Montaza Gulf.
The eccentrically designed Montazah Palace, with its ornate Florentine-inspired towers and Rococo flourishes, is not open to the public, but everyone is welcome to stroll within the sprawling gardens, which can be a welcome slice of nature after a day spent within Alexandria’s hustle. On the coastal end of the park is a small beach with a peculiarly whimsical bridge to a small island.
The complex also contains five beaches for swimming: Aida, Cleopatra, Vanessa, Semiramis, and the private beach of Helnan Palestine Hotel. The Montazah Complex served as one of the most popular picnic spots in Alexandria.
Of course, there is also an attractive Corniche, a part of the city that is equivalent to the Brazilian Copacabana – once (in 1900), a 100-meter-long coastline was torn off the sea, and turned into a sandy beach, becoming so popular with a swimmer on the beaches (which, at that time, were quite rare). Corniche is reminded of the elegance of the 19th and 20th century where Alexandria was a melting pot of cultures. Much of the architecture from this era still stands along the Corniche, though these days, much of it is heavily dilapidated and falling into disrepair. On the western end of the Corniche near Silsila where the New Alexandria Library is being constructed is the Shatby Tombs which are said to be the oldest in Alexandria.