Exploring some ruins before going 'home'
Alexandria Travel Blog› entry 10 of 12 › view all entries
Alexandria has been named 'the greatest historical city with the least to show'. Of all its rich history there is only one thing actually still left standing, which was the first place I visited today: Pompey's Pillar. Yes, a pillar. One whole pillar. This city was founded by Alexander the Great, it was the capital of Egypt during the last great Pharaonic dynasty, and it rivalled Rome during the reign of Egypt's most famous regent, Cleopatra. So all that is left of this rich history is one stupid pillar??!? And the pillar wasn't even erected for Pompey, but still bears its name!
It is hard not to be sarcastic about all this, because, well, there is probably no country on this planet with a richer history and the remnants to prove it than Egypt. So the fact that Alexandria has so little to show could be regarded as somewhat of a disappointment.
However, the city is not entirely without merit. The excavations surrounding the column hold some interesting bits and pieces, including a couple of near-intact sphinxes and some underground tunnels which were part of the sister library (or back-up library) of the original great library.
From the pillar it was a short walk to the other remaining historical site, albeit an underground one, the catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa. These were regarded as one of the seven wonders in the world in medieval times. It's a pity I was not allowed to take photographs inside, as for me these catacombs were definitely the (sightseeing) highlight of my trip to Alexandria.
Via a spiralling staircase you are led down to about 20 metres underground (there is another tier below, but this is permanently flooded and thus closed for public).
Once back above ground I had a nice stroll through the area around the catacombs and the Pompey's Pillar, which was a really nice area with several little market stalls and tiny coffee houses. Really picturesque and not at all like the rest of the city, which mostly isn't very pretty. Michael Palin once called Alexandria “like Cannes with acne” and I can see where he is coming from.
But this little area fortunately made up for that. I must say the eastern side of town (which is the oldest part of town) is definitely nicer than the western end.
This fort was built by the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbey in 1480, using stones salvaged from the famous lighthouse, which had been destroyed in an earthquake about 100 years earlier.
I didn't go inside the fort, but simply admired the view walking up to it (and again, the opposite view while walking back towards the city).
At the end of the afternoon I took the train back to Cairo. Mohamed called me to say that he had booked a taxi for me to pick me up from the station in Cairo. Somehow the locals seem to think that if you don't speak the language you will not survive in a foreign country, so they try to help you as much as possible.
While Alexandria may not be the nicest city in Egypt, I really enjoyed my little weekend break. It was nice to be away from the hotel in Cairo where I'd been holed up the entire week, and do some proper 'travelling' again. Oh, and of course the company made it even more fun. Thanks to Mohamed I had been able to sample some local food and smoke, which is usually beyond the reach of most tourists.