Sunday, July 01, 2007

Alexandria

Having successfully driven the male population of our group into the majority for the first time in 2 years with the addition of Clayton (Rhiis is already considered part of the family) we immediately caught a train to Alexandria. It's quite amazing what a little distance and a large sea will do to the weather. It is technically cooler up here, yet with the increase in humidity we really haven't made a whole lot of improvement in the sweat reduction department. Same thing, different cause. I think I prefer the dry heat than cool and muggy.

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great (surprise, surprise) ~330BC though today there is actually very little remaining of those early days. The most immediate thing one notices upon arrival from Cairo is a brilliant blue sky, wind, more manageable traffic (though there are definately more sirens), and a mixed smell of sea and garbage. It has been claimed by a few members of our now huge group that the smell here is worse than Cairo. Maybe the Cairo pollution just destroys one's nose completely......

We checked in to a hotel with room balconies opening out to overlook the bay and fully welcome the sea breeze, at times more a hurricane and the doors are hard to open against the wind. The colonial architecture here is quite nice and the high ceilings are much appreciated in helping to reduce the heat (no A/C for us). These buildings stretch all along the waterfront and into the old part of town and can't be more than a couple hundred years old, but the maintenance here in Alexandria (indeed all of Egypt) is appalling and I suspect the balconies on some of these buildings will see people falling right through the floor in another year or two. It is quite crowded and busy these days as all of Cairo seems to head up to Alex during the summer to escape the heat and play in the sea. The beaches here actually seem rather small, crowded and dirty (the best are too far out of town or are part of private complexes) so we decided not to go at all though dad, Clayton and Bre did go for a quick swim right off the corniche to say they'd made it into the Med.

Rhiis (fyi, pronounced rhyming with "piece") had previously lived in Alex for 9 months so is quite familiar with town and had us off to the good restaurants and more interesting sites. Alex is most famous for it's ancient lighthouse and library though neither stands today, nor even shows any remains of it's existence. The lighthouse (one of the original 7 world wonders) stood for 1700 years before finally collapsing in an earthquake in the 1400s. Part of it's remains are now underwater, and many of it's blocks were used in the construction of Qaitbey's fort which stands roughly on the same site, silently guarding the entrance to the main harbour. The fort is not particularly large but is in great condition and we had fun exploring and trying to get into trouble.
On a different day we went to check out the catacombs under the oldest part of town near Pompey's pillar. Pompey's pillar (it's not actually for Pompey but for emperor Diocletian) is a single Roman column nearly 30m tall, once used as a pedastal for a statue long gone. It must have been truly bizarre standing there for so many centuries, towering above little Alexandria through the rest of it's turbulent history. Now it seems kind of neglected, standing in the middle of yet another rundown neighbourhood, surrounded by the ruins of the original town and temples. The Catacombs were very cool (literally which is part of the attraction at this time of year). They consist of 3 layers, accessed by a spiralling staircase around a central well, through which the deceased were lowered. Not nearly as extensive as, say, the catacombs in Rome, they were still quite large and date back to pre-Christian Greco-Roman times. The symbology is interesting because they have carvings of the ancient Egyptian Gods, but with Greco-Roman faces and clothing making for a truly weird effect. Oddly enough, the lowest level is now flooded due to the watertable suddenly rising after the taming of the Nile with the Aswan dam. You'd think there'd be less water, but it is definately a recent effect.
I've saved the library for last because, well, I'm writing this blog from inside the new Alexandria library. The original ancient library (built almost immediately after the city was founded) was the most important and complete library of the ancient world serving world scholars for several centuries before being burnt down by early Christians seeking to force their view of the world on everyone. Only a single scroll survived the destruction and much ancient knowledge was lost, until being rediscovered much much later by "modern" scientists and philosophers. Really, the Europeans deserved to end up in the dark ages. The modern library, built beside the location of the original, was opened in 2002 and is a beautiful piece of work. Architecturally kind of bizarre from the outside (it looks like a huge, sloped, grey disc), it is very spacious and well lit with natural light inside creating a very relaxing atmosphere in which to work. I almost wish I had an excuse to come here all the time doing research or something.
Tomorrow we are heading back to Cairo for a few days to show Clayton the main sites before finally heading down to southern Egypt.
Ammon

1 Comments:

At 1:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ammon, you were a born scholar. Are having daydreams of PhD work? or just want to cool off.? Thanks for the note. How would you compare the culture there with the ones in India. How do you find the people? Are you on guard as much as some of the other places? What is the dress code, and does it vary between places? as much as it did earlier?
Are you still flirting with fame and films?
Thanks again, I so look forward to you descriptions.

Brandon,
It is fun watching the notes and your adaptation to the forieng enviroment and culture. Wish I could hav seen your opening forays..... anyways, good always to hear from you.

Love and Big bear hugs to all, even Rhyse

The Bear

 

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