Life in Alexadria

  • About Alexandria
  • History
  • Museums
  • Hotels
  • Transportation
  • Restaurants
  • Attractions

About Alexandria

 

Alexandrian culture is much the same as the rest of Egypt. Since there are fewer tourists the people tend to be more conservative in their attitudes and appearance.

Language: Arabic is the national language, but most people speak English and other European languages as well. Around tourist sites in Alexandria most signs are in both Arabic and English. However, you don’t have to go far off the tourist trail to find that in shops, restaurants and taxis that only Arabic is understood. Therefore it is a recommended to know a few basic words of Arabic and many basic phrases can be found in guide books.

Religion: Most Egyptians are Muslim, although there is a large minority of Coptic Christians and a small minority of Jews. There are mosques and prayer rooms throughout Alexandria and you are guaranteed to hear the muezzins’ calls to prayer five times a day if you stay in Alexandria.

Weekends and holiday: Friday is a day of rest for the majority of people. Most businesses and all government offices are closed all day Friday. In Alexandria it is possible to find some businesses closed on Saturday afternoon and some are also closed all day Sunday.  Tourist sites are open daily, including Fridays and public holidays.

Weather: Alexandria has a cooler Mediterranean climate, unlike the rest of Egypt. Summer temperatures usually reach around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be noted though, that the weather in Alexandria during the months of November to February can sometimes be quite cold. Thunder storms, heavy wind and rain and sometimes a very cold wind are usual at this time of year. Bad weather normally runs in cycles of about 3 days very bad weather and a week or so of good weather. The best time of year to visit Alexandria is probably autumn or fall (late September to early November) and spring (March and April).

History

 

Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt, and it boasts the largest seaport. It was named for its founder, Alexander the Great, and built at his bequest by Greek architect Dinocrates around 332 BC on the site of an old village called Rhakotis. The city quickly flourished as a prominent metropolis, hosting the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Bibliotheca Alexandria, a famous learning center that housed the biggest book collection in ancient times. Notable residents include Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Euclid.

Alexandria was the seat of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, and one of the greatest cities in the Hellenistic world. It lost its status as capital, however, once Cairo was founded by Egypt ’s medieval Islamic rulers. After that Alexandria fell into a long period of decline. In the early 20th century the city regained some of its status as it became a popular vacation spot for wealthy Europeans. Today, Alexandria is Egypt’s primary port, as well as a thriving commercial and industrial center.

The European heyday in Alexandria (such as that found in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet) came to an abrupt end and by the Second World War the city had seen most of its foreigners depart permanently. The wartime film Ice Cold In Alex has put the city’s name into celluloid history, but that does little to recommend Alexandria as a tourist destination.

It is a good base for those that want to visit the war graves at El Alamein. It is also the main cruise port in Egypt and many visitors pass through and prefer to do a day trip to Cairo.

Modern Alexandria is a city of variety. It is a long, narrow city strung out along the Mediterranean Sea, Fort Qaitbay near the site of the original lighthouse was rebuilt and is preserved in its empty state. It offers views across the bay and along the Corniche sea-front. Most of the city’s high-rise buildings are on the Corniche as so many people want to be near the sea.  Most of the buildings even though they might be quite new have shutters and seem quite old in appearance.

But there is more to Alexandria if you look further than first impressions. There are historic mosques as well as remains of ancient Greek and Roman period remains, many of which have been discovered only in the 20th century. You can visit tombs and catacombs or the Roman amphitheatre. These historical sites are rarely crowded.

There are several museums in the city of Alexandria where you can take in the history of the city and the country. The former king’s palace at Montazah is located within a large, lush green park. There are other parks and gardens in the city, although elusive at times.

One of the most famous new landmarks in Alexandria and one of the few truly modern buildings in Alexandria is the library, Bibliotheca Alexandrina. No visit to Alexandria would be complete without stopping to admire the unusual building. Visitors are welcome inside.

The above is just a brief outline of what to expect in Alexandria. Welcome!

Museums

 

Pompey’s Pillar and Serapeum

One of the best-known ancient monuments in Alexandria is Pompey’s Pillar. Mistakenly named in the Middle Ages, it is still standing on Alexandria’s ancient acropolis that was originally part of a temple colonnade. It is almost 100 feet tall, including its pedestal, with a red granite shaft. Under the acropolis are the subterranean remains of the Serapeum, with carved wall niches that are thought to have provided overflow storage space for the ancient library. There are pieces of statuary on display, including two sphinxes at the site.

Pompey's Pillar

Catacombs (Kom El-Shoqafa)

Just southwest of the pillar are the catacombs (Kom al-Shoqafa), which comprise three-levels cut into the existing rock, accessible by a large spiral staircase. There are several chambers decorated with sculpted pillars, statues, and other Romano-Egyptian religious symbols, burial niches, and sarcophagi. There is also a Roman-style banquet room that held memorial meals hosted by relatives of the deceased.

Roman Theatre (Kom El-Dikka)

The unique Roman Theatre is located downtown at Kom al-Dikkah (near Misr train station). Discovered by accident in the early 1960s, it has 12 semi-circular marble tiers in good condition. The Roman Theatre site has undergone some restoration, includes placement of pillars and a display of some statues from undersea explorations.

Kom El Dikka

Museums

The Graeco-Roman Museum is a short walk from the Roman Theatre and home to many collections of rare Greek and Roman relics and coins. There are some 40,000 in all, ranging from the third century BC through the seventh century AD, including the Tanagra collection.

The Royal Jewellery Museum (in Ahmed Yehia Street) has been closed for renovations. It is due to reopen in 2010.

The Alexandria National Museum (near Shallalat Gardens on Fouad Street) is a small museum.  It contains pieces from both the above museums as well as from other archaeological sites from other parts of Egypt. Displays are labelled clearly in English and Arabic.

 

Cemeteries and Tombs

In addition to the catacombs mentioned above the following are also open to visitors:

  • Mustafa Kamel Necropolis
  • Chatby Tombs
  • Anfushi Tombs

Transportation

 

International Flights

El Nozha Airport (ALY) is the closest airport, just inside the city of Alexandria. You can fly to El Nozha Airport directly from Frankfurt, Germany on Lufthansa, and from Heathrow airport in London. From Athens,Greece, you can get there on Olympic Airways (codeshare with Egypt Air). You can also fly direct to El Nozha Airport from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates .

Most planes flying into Egypt arrive in Cairo, which is the country’s largest air hub. American airlines only fly there through partnerships with European airlines. So if you’re coming in from the United States, plan to stop over in Frankfurt, London, or another European city. From Cairo, you can get to Alexandria on a train, a bus, or an Egypt Air flight to El Nozha Airport.

Some international airlines use Borg El Arab (HBE) airport which is about a 1 hour taxi drive from Alexandria. Borg El Arab is operated from Lufthansa from Europe, and sometimes at peak times it is used by airlines from the Middle East (such as Gulf Air).

 

Getting to Alexandria from Cairo

Egypt Air flies from Cairo Domestic Airport to Alexandria, but this is not the most popular way to get to Alexandria from Cairo. The two popular choices to get to Alexandria from Cairo are by train, bus or private car.

You can arrange a private car (basically, a hire car with driver) at Cairo International Airport to take you to your destination, such as a hotel. These cars are usually good condition, recent models with air conditioning. There are two main roads to get to Alexandria – Desert Road or Agricultural Road. There are more things to see on the ‘agricultural road’ as it follows the Nile and so there are more towns and farming areas.

If you are staying in central Cairo it is easy to travel to Alexandria by train. There are two main stations in Alexandria – Sidi Gaber and Raml station, which is the main Alexandria station end of the line.  For those on a day trip, Raml station is about 5 minutes’ walking distance from the Roman Amphitheatre at Kom El Dikka.

Timetables for trains can be found on the Egyptian Railroads website:  http://www.egyptrail.gov.eg

It is also possible to take different types of bus. There is a large bus station (shared taxi minibus also)  in Alexandria for inter-city travel within Egypt. The station is near the Traffic Administration.

 

Alexandria Taxis

Taking a taxi is a good way to get around Alexandria, and not prohibitively expensive. It is easy enough to hail a car from most parts of the city, as long as you know that taxis are yellow and black. You can also opt for a “call taxi” service, which will pick you up at a specific hotel or location and take you to where you want to go. Available 24 hours, this option is particularly good when traveling late at night. Some companies to check out are: Cairo Cab (Dial 19730), Fast Call (Dial 19559),  or Twins Car (Dial 5531284).

You can also opt to use Alexandria ’s network of tramways and buses. Renting a car is another option. If you are set on renting a car, you will need an international driver’s license before leaving home.

Restaurants

 

Roastery coffee

Cuisines: Contemporary, Ice Cream, Italian

Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch

map | directions

Balba3 Village

Cuisines: Egyptian, Grill, Halal

Good for: Doing business, Local cuisine, Outdoor seating

Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch, Takeout, Delivery

map | directions

Cook Door

Cuisines: Fast Food, Pizza & Pasta

Dining options: Delivery

map | directions

Chili’s

Montaza Sheraton Towers, Alexandria, Egypt

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Abd El Wahab Village

Cuisines: Egyptian, Grill, Halal

Good for: Families with children, Romance, Doing business, Local cuisine, Outdoor seating

Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch, Takeout, Delivery

map | directions

Tikka Grill

Cuisines: Seafood, Grill, Sandwiches

Good for: Romance, Doing business

Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch

map | directions

Hardee’s

Cuisines: Armenian, Hamburgers

Dining options: Delivery

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Rakoda

Cuisines: Seafood, Egyptian

Dining options: Reservations

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Abo Fares

Cuisines: Barbecue, Halal, Lebanese

Good for: Outdoor seating

Dining options: Reservations

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Addoura

Cuisines: Seafood

Good for: Romance, Doing business, Outdoor seating

Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch

map | directions

San Giovanni restaurant

Cuisines: Egyptian, European, Mediterranean

Good for: Romance, Doing business

Dining options: Reservations

map | directions

Hosny

Cuisines: Egyptian

Good for: Romance, Doing business, Local cuisine

Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch, Takeout, Delivery

map | directions

Attractions

 

  • Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Located near the site of the ancient library of Alexandria, this modern version is an eleven-story, cylindrical-shaped building that houses more than eight million books.

  • Alexandria National Museum

More than 1800 archaeological pieces are exhibited chronologically from one floor to the next: the basement is devoted to Prehistoric and Pharaonic times ; first floor to the Graeco-Roman period; second floor to the Coptic and Islamic era that highlights artifacts raised during recent underwater excavations.

  • Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

It’s worth going early in the morning when no one else is around (before the tour buses arrive). With no one around, it can be a great experience. There are guards up above and also at the bottom of the main shaft.

  • Pompey’s Pillar

This 25-meter-high granite column was constructed in honor of the Emperor Diocletian in AD 297.

  • Deir Mar Mina (St. Mina Monastery)

Historic religious site located in Borg el-Arab el-Gadida. Mariut.

  • King Farouk Palace

This sprawling property was the summer home of controversial King Farouk who assumed power at the age of 16 in 1936.

  • Roman Amphitheatre

Built in the 2nd century AD, this Roman amphitheater has 13 semicircular tiers made of white and gray marble.

  • Cisterns of Alexandria

Excavations have unearthed a labyrinth of cisterns that supplied the citizens of ancient Alexandria with fresh water.

  • Sarapeum (Serapeion)

This temple, dedicated to the god Serapis, is from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

  • Graeco-Roman Museum

The museum was first built in 1892 as a small building located on Horreya Road. In 1895 it was transferred to the present site near Gamal Abdul Nasser Road. It started with eleven galleries, and has been gradually enlarged in later renovation stages.

  • Mosque of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi

The Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque is the most historic and most beautiful mosque in Alexandria. It was built primarily in 1775 over the tomb of a Spanish scholar and saint, Abu El Abbas El Mursi (1219-86), and stands on Mosque Square overlooking the eastern harbor.

  • Deir Anba Bishoi

These desert building are all that remains of the monasic Christians that fled Roman persecution in the 4th century.

  • Corniche

The Corniche is a glorious 3km walkway along the harbour dotted with restaurants, markets and historic sights.

  • El-Salamlek Palace

In the year 1892, El-Salamlek Palace was built by HH Khedive Abbas Helmi The Palace is situated on a hill overlooking the emerald Mediterranean sea at the glorious Montazah Bay as well as the most beautifully landscaped gardens in Alexandria, Al-Montazah.

  • Anfushi Tombs

These limestone tombs, which date from about 250 BC, are painted to simulate alabaster and marble. They are decorated with pictures of Egyptian gods and daily life, along with graffiti, which also dates from the same period. The tomb lies to the south of the esplanade leading to the palace of “Ras el-Tin” and consists of five tombs, all dating from the first half of the 3rd century. 

  • Ruins of Caesareum

Nothing remains of the Temple of Augustus. Founded by Cleopatra in honor of Mark Antony, it may well be in this temple that Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 BC. The temple stood near the shore at the center of the great harbor. It was a lavish temple with porticoes, propylalea, parks and libraries.

  • Chatby Tombs

The tomb dates from the third century BC and was patterned after an old Greek house with an entrance, a front room, and a back room. It is very similar to the ones found in the Anfushi district, and is considered to be Alexandria’s oldest tomb.

  • Mustafa Kamel Necropolis

These are 4 subterranean rock-cut tombs of a relative good condition and beautiful depictions. They date back to the Ptolemaic era, particularly the 2nd and 3rd century BC.

  • Montazah Palace Gardens

Located on a low plateau east of Alexandria and overlooking a beautiful beach, the Monatazah palace gardens, now open to the public.

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