While I have travelled extensively around the world, Egypt was the country that fascinated me since I was a child. I always had this urge to discover more about its culture, society and customs. This is how my journey begins. Although I have spent more than four months here, I have reserved one month to fully enjoy Alexandria – the best place to be in Egypt.
The Cradle of Culture and Exploration
So why was Alexandria considered the cradle of culture and exploration? Imagine a city that housed all the knowledge of the world. The home of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Pharos Lighthouse and where Greek, Roman and Egyptian culture came together so uniquely since the times of Alexander the Great. It was the place where people would gather, discuss and pioneer new thoughts and discoveries – the place where wisdom meant power.
Located at the center of Egypt’s Mediterranean coast – Alexandria began life as a humble fishing village. Founded 2300 years ago by Alexander the Great, home to Cleopatra as well as the largest library in the world. Situated at the key junction between the Eastern and the Western world, the city still holds these two directions deeply imbedded in its charm.
The city that never sleeps
Now the main reason why this city managed to put a spell on me is first and foremost its weather. While Egypt is not the best place to be during the hot months of summer, Alexandria will always hold its freshness due to its breeze. Nowhere have I enjoyed walking alongside the beach as here! Then, there is the action – it seems to me that this city never sleeps! People roam from morning till late evening and sit in coffee shops drinking tea and smoke shisha (hookah). It is almost like a sacred custom – which brings so much color and spectacle to the place. Of course, as love always goes through the stomach – one of the good news is that Egypt is very affordable and this gives a traveler a sense of ‘wanna-do-it-all’. Every inch is jammed packed with activity, people, food sellers, coffee shops and sights to visit.
The biggest library in the world
Dedicated to the Muses – the nine goddesses of the arts, the eleven-story New Library of Alexandria is my number one must see sight in Alexandria. It was actually built on the site of the Old – Great Library – which was constructed and flourished under the Ptolemaic dynasty. It functioned since its construction in the 3rd century BC until it was conquered by the Romans in 30 BC. Alexandria was considered the capital of knowledge and learning in part because of the Great Library.
Within the building there are also several museums, a planetarium, a school for information science, and conservation facilities – therefore just one visit might not be enough. The site is huge and the amount of books ranges up to eight million. The design of the new library is also impressive due to its symbolism. Its circularity represents the cyclical nature of knowledge that still flows throughout time. The tilting roof recalls the ancient Alexandrian lighthouse and is the symbol for learning and culture.
The Catacombs – unique merge of styles
The catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa is a site which is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. Discovered in the 1900, the catacombs are impressive due to the fact that here we see a quite unique merge of the Hellenistic and Roman influences with the Pharaonic funeral cult. Here we can see Egyptian gods bearing Roman clothes and hair style which again underlines the impressive syncretism between these cultures.
Montaza Palace and the Royal gardens
Now while in Alexandria we must not forget about the beautiful Montaza Palace. Built by King Fuad I in 1932 as a summer palace – it also encompasses expansive royal gardens, now used as a public park – as well as a museum. During weekends many locals come here and make picnics, play music and stroll along its beautiful alleyways. I definitely recommend it if you want to have a bit of ‘green therapy’ as it is quite difficult to find green places around.
The Qaitbay Citadel
Wondering where you can take the most spectacular sea shots? The Qaitbay Citadel is the place you are looking for! Also – want to know a secret? In case you have a vivid recount of your history teacher telling you about the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria – it was actually destroyed after an earthquake in the 14th century. The Citadel was actually built on the same site and represents an important defensive stronghold in Egypt and along the Mediterranean Sea Coast. It was built in the 15th century and holds a mix of the Mamluk and Ottoman architecture.
The Quintessential Alexandrian experience
Want to have the quintessential Alexandrian experience? The waterfront (‘Cornishe’) is the ideal place to enjoy the city’s vibes as it is filled with people throughout the day. You will never get bored! While I have visited many port cities, I have to say that Alexandria has the longest and most animated waterfront – it runs for almost ten miles and ends by the Montaza Palace. This is the place that marks the cosmopolitanism and elegance of the 19th and 20th centuries through the contrast in its architecture and yet the layback atmosphere of the beaches as well as the coffee shops and restaurants. Here you can enjoy the city breeze and gaze at the most amazing sunsets.
Of course you will agree that it is the food! One of the things you must try while here is the seafood. Do not dare to leave Alexandria without having tried its various restaurants! One that I could recommend is Samakmak (situated close to the citadel) for its delicious food, exquisite serving and affordability. Then, if you are in for a good coffee – and for those that have a sweet tooth – a unique dessert – you should have a look at Café de la Paix. Its warm atmosphere and elegant look almost seem to take you back in time to an another age. Hope you will enjoy!