The ancient city of Alexandria is all but destroyed. But the sea that made this place of such vital importance is still very much present. The stunning blue of the Mediterranean hugs one side of Alexandria, its waves unchanged for thousands of years as it has watched the Ancient city crumble, only to be replaced with a modern city that is now meeting a similar fate.
I am an ocean girl. I can sit on the beach all day, my hair curling in the salty wind as I soak up the sun and the rhythmic rushing of the waves. And still, I was surprised at just how drawn I was to the Mediterranean. The blue is unlike any body of water I have ever seen before! The water is so clear, unlike the Pacific and Atlantic beaches I have been to on either coast in the U.S. And in lieu of the sandy or pebbly shores I am more familiar with, the sea comes right up to the city in most places, hugging tight to the main corniche and spraying innocent passersby with gentle salt kisses, or hurling itself at giant tumbled stones in places where the waves are strongest.
Luckily, our hotel was right on the corniche and our first stop in Alexandria was a beautiful garden overlooking the sea. It is a common spot for families and picnickers, and made for a lovely afternoon stroll.
Afterwards, we were treated to our best meal of the entire trip. As we were right on the Mediterranean, there was no way we were not going to have seafood. We found a fish restaurant where you pick your own fish and tell the chef how you want it prepared. Along with the warm fresh pita bread and delicious hummus and garlic sauce, we had fried red snapper, grilled jumbo shrimp, and a salt-baked seabass. I ate until my stomach hurt with a giant smile on my face. Not a bad Christmas dinner!
The Citadel was built in the 15th-century as a defensive fortress. It is built on the exact location of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.
Our guide, who was Muslim himself, also took us to the most famous mosque in Alexandria. El-Mursi Abul Abbas Mosque, named for the saint whose tomb the building is built over, was stunningly beautiful and detailed. It was a small moment in a long line of great ones on the trip, but I really appreciated the time our guide took to share more of the culture and religion of modern day Egypt with us. The Muslim influence is everywhere in Egypt - you see women with their headdresses and hear the call to pray coming from intercoms attached to the minarets. It gave us a chance to talk and ask questions about these customs, their significance, and how they shape the culture. As someone who is religious myself, it was deeply personal and special to me that he shared this with us.
We then visited the Alexandria Library, the second largest public library in the world after the one in New York. It was built in 2002 and contains nothing of the original library, but it is wonderful to see Egypt try to reclaim some of the curiosity and intelligence that led to the rise of their ancient culture. We also visited the Catacombs. Again, it was a no photos allowed situation. They discovered these catacombs completely on accident - a donkey fell three-stories down the access shaft one day. I had never visited catacombs before, and they were eerily quiet. Due to modern day developments, ground water is seeping into the catacombs and has completely submerged the lowest level, leaving the air heavy and humid but oddly still. The catacombs were huge, and their origins in the 2nd century led the decorated tombs to be adorned with art that is a mix of Egyptian and Roman traditions. Besides the Mediterranean, the catacombs were probably my favorite place to visit in Alexandria.
After the catacombs, we explored more Roman influence and stopped by the Roman Theater. With the ability to seat 800, this dual-sided amphitheater was the central location of culture and entertainment.
I haven't been to Rome and explored the ancient sites there, but I honestly felt transported back through the centuries and across the sea.
Our final stop in Alexandria was Pompey's Pillar. At almost 90 feet tall, it's hard to express the size of this thing! Its unique in size, the largest of its kind outside of Rome. It is also not made of drums (or individual slices) and is a single piece of Aswan granite. The Roman Empire erected these monuments as testaments to their victories. In this case, it boasts a Roman victory over an Alexandrian revolt. That's one way to really rub salt in the wound, huh?
- The Mediterranean Sea!!!
- Seafood - So fresh, so delicious.
- Catacombs - Alexandria is the best city in the whole country to observe the marriage of Egyptian and Roman culture.
- The Citadel - It has been renovated so recently that the charm of seeing an ancient fortress is definitely missing.