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Marsa Matrouh, Egypt

With more than sixty thousand inhabitants, Marsa Matruh is the largest city on the Mediterranean coast west of the Nile Delta or west of Alexandria. Marsa Matruh can be reached by coastal road - it is almost 300 kilometers away from Alexandria or about four to five hours drive.

If Alexandria is too big for you, you will love this quiet port city. Protected by rocks and sandy beaches overlooking the open sea Marsa Matruh is a paradise for a quiet family vacation.

The climate is very different from the coastal cities on the Red Sea. While the Red Sea is sunny and warm all year round, the Egyptian Mediterranean coast can be rainy, cloudy and cold in the winter - at least fresh enough that you have to wear a sweater or jacket. But in the spring it is very sunny and warm, and in the summer it is hot as one would expect in Egypt.

The city itself is divided into two parts. One part forms the historic old town with narrow streets and oriental bazaars where you can buy beautiful souvenirs with a little negotiation skills. In old part you will find also countless houses that are decorated with extremely elaborate mosaics The other new part is presented in a more western modern outfit.

Due to the numerous houses decorated with mosaics, Marsa Matruh is also known as the "city of mosaics".

Marsa Matruh is a port city on the northern edge of the Libyan desert with a long tradition. This is probably due to the natural bay of the lagoon, which was used to build a safe harbor. Already in ancient times Libyan tribes settled here. Here was a trading place where goods were exchanged from Libya, Egypt, Cyprus and Crete. Later came the Phoenician and Greek sailors, who had long dominated Mediterranean trade and established their colonies on the North African coast.

In classical antiquity, the port city of Paraitonion (Greek) or Paraetonium (Latin) was located here, which was important until the Byzantine period. Remains of a Coptic church with underground catacombs have been found from Byzantine times.

Located halfway between the Nile Delta and Libya’s eastern coastal region of Cyrenaica and not far from the Siwa oasis, the Mars Matruh area was also important for the region’s internal trade. Then as now, nomadic products were sought after by neighboring peoples.

In general, the Egyptian Mediterranean coast was a bottleneck, as the Libyan desert in the south is mostly made up of a sea of ​​sand and is therefore difficult to cross it. Large movements of troops, trade caravans and population movements in this region therefore moved along the coast, either when the Libyans invaded Egypt in ancient times (or vice versa), or when the Arab-Islamic expansion through North Africa first took this path. Twenty kilometers west of Mars Matruh, Egyptian border fortresses from the time of Pharaoh Ramses II were excavated. The fortresses were directed against Libyan tribes. Somewhat later, during the time of Pharaoh Merenptah, there was a Libyan invasion of Egypt, which began in this area. The hieroglyphic inscription on the famous stone stele Merenptah mentions the name of Israel for the first time in history. More than two thousand years later, the Berber tribes and the Arab Bedouin troops of the Fatimids set out on this journey from Tunisia to Egypt: the Fatimids conquered the land on the Nile and founded the capital Cairo (al-Qahira - "the victor").

Most of the urban complex of Mars Matruh is very modern. South of the city there is a small international airport, but only certain airlines fly to it. Outside the city, artificially irrigated and green tourist-hotel complexes of different quality categories are arranged along the coast like oases. Marsah Matruh is also the administrative seat of the eponymous province to which much of the northern Libyan desert belongs, including the Siwa oasis.

Marsa Matruh is an ideal starting point for trips to the Libyan desert. From Mars Matruh you can reach the famous oasis of Siwa. It is worth visiting because the oasis is mostly inhabited by Berbers. This ancient culture differs from the Egyptian one not only in details. Alexander the Great probably took this path when he visited the prophecy of Amon (Amon of Siwa) in Siwa. That is why the old Paraetonium / Paraitonion was often called Amunia. By car, the distance to the city of Siwe roughly corresponds to the distance Alexandria - Mars Matruh, ie about 300 kilometers and four to five hours drive. Only here you don’t drive along the coast, but through the desert along the Qattara depression.

Due to the beautiful coastal landscape and seven kilometers long beautiful sandy beaches suitable for vacation Marsa Matruh is also called "Egyptian Riviera

Extremely beautiful coastline alternates with light sandy beaches and rocky shores, sometimes with quieter coves, often with strong waves breaking on steep cliffs. The clear water here is much cleaner than on the heavily polluted coast of the Nile Delta and glows a turquoise blue when the weather is nice. This is probably due to the ocean current, which drives the dirt of Egyptian cities to the east. Tropical coral reefs like those on the Red Sea do not exist here. The area is more suitable for swimmers, sun lovers and surfers, rather than for diving lovers.

Particularly beautiful beaches are located a few kilometers west of Mars Matruh, such as al-Abyad / al-Obayed sandy beach and a small beach in Agibah / Ageebah bay, which is also popular among Egyptians, which can be reached by car via the coastal road (distance driving approx. 20 to 28 kilometers). This part of the coast is adorned with caves and beautiful rocks.

In the urban area of ​​Mars Matruh beaches can be quite crowded during the bathing season as many Egyptians spend their holidays here. Since Egyptian bathing culture differs from European, sunbathing in a sexy bikini on such booths is not recommended. On the other hand, it is calmer on the private beaches of large hotel and tourist resorts outside Mars Matruh.

A particularly picturesque part of the coast, about 5 kilometers west of Mars Matruh, is connected with Queen Cleopatra. It is believed that she enjoyed here in palace with Roman lover Mark Antony..

"Cleopatra's Bath" is located in a chalk cliff into which water flows from several sides.

 

Beaches

There are many peaceful and less popular beaches in the surroundings of Marsa, which are literally lonely after the season. The best place to swim is Ageeba beach, 22 km west, on the main road to Sollum town. The beach is located between the cliffs. It is between 30 and 45 meters long and offers a beautiful view of the sea, especially at sunset. The term Ageeba in Arabic means "miracle." In the immediate vicinity of Ageeba it is possible to dive with a mask and snorkel to observe the clear seabed.

Other famous beaches in Marsa Matrouh are El Gharam, Rommel, El Obayed, Almaza and Cleopatra beach. The Cleopatra Beach is situated around 5 kilometres to the West of the center of the city. This beach has been a love site for Anthony and Cleopatra according to some historical records. The most remarkable feature in the Cleopatra beach is the Hamam or the bath. It consists of a huge rock inside the water that can be reached walking. There are some Pharaonic inscriptions at the entrance of the bath. There are some openings in the rock that allows the water of the sea to enter and move around the rock from inside. There are also some halls at the ceiling of the rock to allow the sun to enter inside the bath and makes the water warmer.

Almaza beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean. The peculiarity of the beach is that it has a water temperature of about four degrees warmer than the average in the Mediterranean.

Right at the tip of Marsa Matruh's eastern peninsula is located Romel Beach. This quiet but rocky piece of shore with its shallow and calm water is suitable for children and old aged people as well. Marsa Matrouh also hosts many other beaches like El Amirat Beach or the beach of the princesses that used to host the princesses of the royal family of Egypt. There is still a royal palace near the beach today. There is also the Obayed beach that is famous for its high and strong waves.

Shopping

Marsa Matruh is also an excellent place for shopping as its closeness to the Egyptian-Libyan border gives Marsa Matruh the chance to be the perfect market for products imported from Libya and other African North Coast countries. These products include shoes for all ages and cotton products that are imported and others that are manufactured in Egypt. There are the oriental perfume shops as well that sell different colognes and scents for men and women. Marsa Matruh is also quite famous for selling “Leb”, the most popular Egyptian nuts.

The other reason Marsa Matruh is an interesting place for shopping is that it is at the top of the Western Desert of Egypt and this gives it the chance to sell special desert herbs that can hardly be found anywhere else. These herbs can cure different sorts of diseases and illness. These include colon disorders, toothache, coughing and lung problems, headache, hair herbs, and so many other things. The most delicious herb among these is the desert mint that Marsa Matruh is so famous for.

There are two major markets in Marsa Matruh: Alexandria Street, the second major street after the Kornish, and Souq Libya, or the Libya Market where many products who are imported, legally or illegally from Libya. A visit to any of these markets can be worthwhile as they have many nice goods with good quality and very low prices.

Entertainment

Many of the hotels around the city have bars and nightclubs for those who would like more action in their night time. The nightclub at the Beau Site hotel is quite a nice place for having a drink and dancing. There are also places for billiards, bowling, and many other activities games. Some hotels offer entertainment programs for their guests of all ages.

You can also spend the night smoking Narghiles (also known as the hookah or water pipe) in oriental cafes and modern cafes all around Marsa Matruh. Hookah steam comes from a vessel at the very top of the hookah under the coals. In this vessel there is tobacco called shisha. That tobacco must be moist to create steam. Although it is called tobacco, it is actually cellulose to which flavors are added. The flavors are usually fruity, but can also be tobacco. That tobacco may or may not be nicotine. Then, the steam passes through a long tube to a glass vessel with water at the very bottom of the hookah and in doing so exits the water and enters the hose used for inhalation.

History

Mersa Matruh also has cultural features. At Umm el Rakham, about 24 km west of Marsa Matruh and south of Agiba Hill, you can explore the ruins of the Temple of Ramses 2.

Well-preserved parts of the building still testify to the Egyptian high culture and architecture, which in this case dates back about 2200 years. It is also worth seeing the ruins of the Ptolemaic docks by the sea and the excavated Coptic chapel. It is this place of worship that dates back to the beginnings of this early Christian trend in the sixth century, and was discovered only a few years ago.

In the village of Sidi Barrani and Sidi Abdel Rahman, you can see the remains of world wars: the old ship wrecks that are now being explored by tourists-divers.

During World War II, Mars Matruh was a strategically important place. The British had a base in the city, but German General Rommel was also here with his troops. Along the coast lie various wrecks of warships, including the German submarine which was sunk in 1941. In the cave where  Rommel temporarily housed his dwellings and where he planned some of his military moves, there is a kind of military museum with relics and accessories of the African Corps. You can also see numerous photos of Rommel. If you are interested in war history you should visit El Alamein and visit the museum and war cemeteries there.

Diving

The main diving destinations are shipwrecks. Diving opportunities are offered from April to October.

You can visit the wrecks of the destroyers HMS Defender and HMS Gurkha, the cruisers HMS Naiad and the German submarine U-79.

Trip to the Siwa oasis

One day trips to the Siwa oasis can be organized from Marsa Matruh to explore this oasis with its natural pools and astonishing antiquities. Siwa Oasis is definitely worth a visit if you want to taste the authenticity of Berber culture. This Egyptian oasis is inhabited by a Berber community that still lives its lives without the influence of the modern world. Walking through the oasis, among small ceramic shops, gems, baskets and typical blue scarves, you will come across the remains of Shali, a 12th-century fortified enclave of salt and clay, badly damaged after heavy rains in 1926. Only a few buildings are undamaged, including a characteristic mosque.

You can visit Al-Mauta, the mountain of the dead. There are thousands of stone graves here. Some contain inscriptions and paintings from the time of the great kings.

Other oasis attractions include the Siwa Museum, the Oracle Temple, about 3 km east on the Aghurmi Rock, and the sacred Al-Dakrur Mountain, about 3 km southeast of the oasis. Every October, a kind of harvest festival is celebrated here.

Desert expedition

You cannot leave Siva without a desert expedition. The tourist office and the hotels themselves organize half-day excursions or one-day 4 × 4 4WD safaris. Walking the dunes at sunset, barefoot, surrounded by silence and surrounded only by sand that is slowly turning red, is truly an indescribable experience.

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