Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alexandria, A Town I Vaguely Knew

Day 2: Alexandria

As-Salamu 'Alaykum!

From here on in, these entries are going to be pretty summarized. We saw so many things and I may or may not remember everything. I’ll try to give a one line summary of each spot but there are certainly a few places that will be discussed.

So it’s day 2 of our time in Egypt and it starts earlier than one would expect after such a long couple days of travel. The bus arrived at 7am and we were off on an all-day tour of Alexandria.

For a little background, the Macedonian emperor Alexander the Great conquered Egypt some time ago (think back in the thousands of years) and founded Alexandria as his personal corner of the region. He was smart about it, though, and created a sort of amalgamation of the Egyptian and Greek pantheons that would keep everyone happy. To quote our tour guide, “The way to the heart of the Egyptian people is through their religion.” I mention this because Alexandria’s architecture and artifacts are all inspired in the style of the Greek (and later the Romans). This little summary is super condensed and probably wrong so don’t take my word for it. I’m too lazy to get on Wikipedia to do the research. This was all told to us by amazing tour guide: Aheem. He was both animated and knowledgeable. It was a lot of fun.

Anyways, after driving for about 2 hours, we got to our halfway point in the middle of nowhere. It’s a little tourist trap that had stores, a playground and something which claimed to be a zoo. But the real highlight was the little bread store that sold super cheap and delicious bread.

After a couple more hours we arrived in Alexandria. Our first stop was a large tomb discovered by a horse. After the horse’s leg fell through the ceiling they found that there was a huge collection of mummified bodies. I believe the number is around 400 nooks with bodies in them.

Next we found ourselves at a massive column called Pompey’s Pillar. I don’t remember the reason why it was built but I recall something about his namesake doing something important. That’s probably obvious from the name, however. There were also a few sphinxes there. The Egyptians believed that the sphinxes were the most powerful creatures. They had the strength of a lion and the wisdom of man.

Our next stop was a Roman style theatre. They found it buried under a ton of sand. This is supposed to be one of around 100 theatres in Alexandria but they’ve only found a handful of them. At the site there were also artifacts that were drawn out of the Mediterranean Sea. There was a huge earthquake in Alexandria a few centuries ago and a large portion collapsed into the water, including the remains of the Library of Alexandria (more on that in a minute).

Soon it was lunchtime. This meal made me realize two things: I really missed seafood and I may never eat decent seafood again till I get back to America. It was a fried fish and some calamari. Squid is a pretty common seafood here so you can get it in almost any restaurant that serves fish. Egyptians also eat a lot of Middle Eastern food (not surprisingly) so their staple appetizers include pitas and hummus, baba ganoush and eggplants. It was outstanding.

Our next quick stop was a place called the citadel. I don’t really remember what the deal was with the Citadel but it was a really nice day and we were right on the sea. Sorry about that.

Then we visited the Library of Alexandria. The original Library was razed by Julius Caesar but in 2002 they decided to create a new one. It is one of the most amazing libraries I’ve ever been to. There are over one million volumes in their stacks and they have around 370 digital stations for the sake of research. There are also 3 museums underneath it as well as a conference hall across their courtyard. The library itself has a unique construction. The outer walls are etched with words from almost every written language still in existence.

The library’s reading room is a series of staggered steps.

The windows were constructed with the intent preventing any direct sunlight from entereing.

They have a 5 petabyte (that’s 5000 terabytes or 5 million gigabytes) hard drive solely dedicated to holding a 10 year screenshot of the internet from 1997 to 2007. The stacks are lit by lamps built directly into the bookshelves.

I’d never seen a more modern, beautiful, and surprisingly elegant library in my life.

Our final stop for the day was a little more relaxing than the previous stops. We went to the palace gardens of one of the last rulers of Egypt. It was nice but I’m not really sure why we stopped there other than to look at the Mediterranean. Carolyn and Anna had to touch the water though so we partook in what I wouldn’t call (yet some may think otherwise) trespassing. Finally, we took one final picture in front of the main palace and called it a very very very long day.

And that, my friends, was our first full day in Egypt. To finish off this post I want to indulge in some narcissism. As many of you may know, I tend to take a ton of pictures whenever I take out my camera. It’s a fun hobby and recently I’ve taken to even liking some of the photos I’ve taken. So for at least these entries about Egypt I’ll be showing you my pictures of the day:

We were leaving an underground gallery underneath Pompey’s Pillar.

Pompey’s pillar provided some pretty good photo ops.

This is a vacation and we’re not going to take a break until it’s over, dammit.



  1. Nothing especially special, nothing quite like the likes of you...

  2. 1) AWESOME library.

    2) Pompey was one of Alexander's lieutenants, who ended up taking Egypt as his personal fiefdom after Alexander's death. His dynasty ruled for a while- Cleopatra was the last of his line.

    3) Camels chasing camels. Not as awesome as the library, but nifty.