Tuesday, August 05, 2008


I had a Friday day trip to Alex last week. We hired a minibus (cost 500le for the day) and 4 of us hit the road. I have been there a couple of times before- but never really done the sights…. So the plan for the day was the citadel and the library.

The Citadel, aka Fort Qaitbey, is a fort or castle like building on the edge of the harbour.

It was built in 1480 upon the remains of the foundations of the old Alexandria lighthouse- the Pharos. The Pharos was a lighthouse with a statue of the god Poseidon at the top and it used to be one of the seven ancient wonders of the world until 1303 when the whole structure was destroyed by an earthquake.

It was lovely walking round the fort, which inside has many corridors which reminded me of a monastery- beautiful lighting and arches, and the fresh sea breeze coming in through the small turret windows. I think you can only fully appreciate the air when you live in noisy, polluted Cairo! It was a joy to fill my lungs with oxygen! It was lovely looking out to sea and over the Harbour to Alex....

For years people have been saying to me- have you seen the library in Alexandria and I would say no- why go to a library??? Well, then I went! An amazing building, opened in 2002- housing 800 million books and set up with lots of desks with computers for reading, and exhibitions of paintings etc etc . it was well worth the visit! The architecture has been much praised- There are inscriptions of all different scripts on the walls and a lovely layout and 'pond' in front! The new library was built to replace the ancient library which was destroyed partly by Julius Caesar and completely destroyed by 'Christian mobs' in year 391. The knowledge and secrets that were held in the 700 000 scrolls that were lost will never now be known! The world, and its religions, science, everything in fact- could be very different today if that knowledge had survived. You can read more about it all on their website http://www.bibalex.gov.eg/

It was a wonderful day- we ate candy floss on the prom- sold from a boy with lots of it in plastic bags on a big stick!drank in coffee shops which have been there since I don’t know when- with old men in there who look like they have been there since the place was built. We drank wine in a restaurant just off the street (you'd never get alcohol served in a place like that in Cairo!). We wandered the shops- we went into one shoe shop- …….
The conversation went like this-
Me; in Arabic- can we try these shoes in size …,
shop assistant; realises I am not Egyptian and speaks to me in French
I say; sorry- only speak English and Arabic not French
shop assistant; asks why I don't you speak French?

It was a very strange conversation I felt, in Egypt, and showed just how European Alex actually is!!!!

The thing about Alex for me, is not the sights, and lovely as they are, or the fish restaurants- which I am told are the best anywhere, or the beach- which is full of people fully clothed ( a very strange sight when you are not used to it- women- fully clothed , in the sea!).

The thing which makes Alexandria so wonderful in the summer is the atmosphere. The people are all so relaxed and there is an incredible sense of happiness everywhere. Many pop singers choose to make their videos there, especially the ballads, and lots of the older Egyptian films have love scenes set against the crashing waves. You can see why, it really is a very romantic place.

With its intellectual history and its melting pot of cultures and languages and peoples it really has a completely different feel from Cairo. I think next time I'll have to stay over and get the full effect! Slept the entire journey home- must have been all that fresh sea air!!!

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