It was time to say bye to the Temples of Pharaohs and move to the western side of Egypt which is significant to Egypt due to a couple of factors. Pyramids of Giza and Alexandria, one of the big cities of Egypt. When I was visiting Aswan, I was told that Aswan is the third-largest city in Egypt. I landed in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, and then reached East to visit the third-largest city. Now going back to the East to visit the second-largest city of Egypt i.e. Alexandria. Unlike the Eastern part of Egypt, Western seems like completely another side as if two countries live in one. I am from India, where diversity is at its maximum. None of the sides of India, Eastern, Southern, Western and Northern are alike. Every side has its own culture. There is so much similarity between these two ancient countries – India and Egypt.
For crossing over to the Western part of the country, I had a couple of options. Either take a road journey or fly directly to Cairo or Alexandria or road travel spread over a couple of days to reach Alexandria. Being a backpacker and not a leisure tourist I did not wish to fly even if I was on tight timelines. Also, my diving gear was in Hurgadha, so decided to take a road journey the same way I came from there. Also, the Red Sea was tempting to explore more what’s hidden under its belly.
Before lunch, I was at Hurgadha after leaving early morning from Aswan. This time, I had checked into a different hotel. As a Nomad, I always look for variety in my journey.
More diving in the Red Sea:
Till the time, I was very satisfied with the hospitality of Egyptian and known to its culture.
As mentioned, I decided to dive for a couple of more days to visit few more shipwrecks to see if any secrets can be found at new sites. Or maybe the ghosts of sailors wanted to see me more. Every shipwreck brings you a new story if you research more about it. I learned this most important lesson after my Wreck diving course. Though for these two days of diving, didn’t get too much time to research the shipwrecks which I was going to explore. As usual, the dive center was courteous and now they knew me very well. They welcomed me with open hands.
These two days of diving went like a fast forward feature. Diving is such an addiction (of course, a positive one), that you never would like to end.
Check the local rules:
I had to move on with my second leg of Egypt exploration. Reaching Cairo on the third day without any incident like my travel to Hurgadha surprised me, but I guessed I was used to Egypt now. Also, citizens are so submissive that I hardly saw any fight or crime on-road or in a hotel. I guess the only noise was from tourists.
Even though my domestic travel and sightseeing were booked through a tour operator, I book my own hotels after much deliberations and research.
While checking in Cairo, felt the need for booking through an agent. Recently as per the Government’s orders, every tourist needed some permit. This was unknown to me. I didn’t know whom to approach for this permit as the day was coming to an end. The hotel was adamant about the same. Actually, the rule was made for the safety of tourists. Again my tour operator and his local agent came to rescue. He assured the hotel of getting the issue sorted the next day. So a lesson was learned. However and whichever you travel, keep on checking local rules till the time you land at that place. This lesson came in handy when I was traveling to Cambodia for visiting Angkor Vat. This will be covered in my upcoming blog about 4 southeast Asian nations’ whirlwind tour of 2018.
From the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea:
Hamdy, a jovial guide/representative of A & L tours had already given me a pleasant experience in returning my extra money which I paid by mistake. This happened when I landed in Cairo.
A plump guy who wasn’t so talkative like my earlier guide of Aswan and Luxor, but was careful enough keeping the same standard of services.
He had planned my next two and last days so well and without wasting time, but covering almost everything which includes Khan market. One of the biggest markets in this part of the world having shops in small lanes and bylanes. It was like a maze. If Hamdy, wouldn’t have been at my service, I would have been still at Khan market finding my way out.
After reaching Alexandria, noticed a vast difference in both sides of Egypt.
Though Hamdy wasn’t a waterfall of information but was accurate in giving information about places he showed. This I compared on both days after reaching the hotel.
From the entrance of Alexandria, you can see the spread of this second-largest city. This city is the country’s largest seaport and the trade center of maritime activity. Though not older like Eastern cities, still one of the oldest cities in Egypt. If Luxor is more than 4 thousand years old while Alexandria is 2500 years old. Having Greece, right across the Mediterranean sea, Alexander the Great sailed to this place in 332 BC and landed at one small village. With a vision of creating one of the finest capital cities in the world. He had dreams of setting a city that would have gone down in history to showcase his city as a fine example of his reign.
When Greeks took over Egypt after Pharaoh’s dynasties, this city, the power center changed from East to West. This city acquired the status of the capital of Egypt for nearly a thousand years and was immensely prosperous. The importance of this city rose to its glory because of its strategic trading location between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. It also became the center of learning for the ancient world and retains its academic importance to this day.
Our first stop was at this palace. Looking at the expanse of Montaza Palace grounds gives an idea of the courtyard of the ruler of Egypt. Further added by Hamdy Ruler of Egypt used to hold the Kings of King title over all the kings of Egypt and Sudan. This palace was used as a hunting lodge and residence for his companion. Another palace which is larger than the original which is Al-Haramlik Palace and royal gardens were added to the Montaza Palace grounds. This palace was built by King Fuad the first in this century as a summer palace. As per the description written, It is in a mixture of Turkish and Florentine styles, which has two towers, one can be seen as the predominant one
with elaborated Italian Renaissance design details. Each floor of the palace faces the sea through a long arcade. Then the original Salamlek Palace got renovated as an official Egyptian presidential residence. Montazah Palace – Built by the last king of Egypt in 1900, situated at a low plateau with a view of a Mediterranean Sea beach. Architects borrowed design ideas from the Ottoman Empire and Florence in Italy. The Montazah Palace is now a representative of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty family’s public museum showcasing its history and art collection. The Salamlek Palace is now turned into a hotel. (Source: google)Actually, It’s a tourist spot on account of its sizable gardens and palaces left by its royal heritage; the Egyptian government charges a nominal fee to enter it. Your entry is restricted only to gardens and You can’t enter the palace.
Those who are interested in Western heritage, flock to Alexandria for its good diving sites and its beaches which are among the best in Egypt if not the Mediterranean.
One could easily see the tourist types who prefer Alexandria for its long 20 stretches of palm tree-lined esplanade and boulevards, swish hotels. Long stretches of fine sandy beach and gardens characterize Alexandria, widely considered to be one of the finest summer resorts in this part of the world. Alexandria is a vast contrast to other parts of Egypt. Its cultural heritage, the warmer summer, mild winter, and pleasing months in between. Also, it’s more cosmopolitan which is similar to Mediterranean countries feel. Its also famous for ‘Pearl of the Mediterranean’.
We were in a day trip to Alexandria and not an overnight one. We moved quickly to the next attraction.
Qaitbay Citadel, considered to be one of the Seven wonders of the Ancient world is actually a turreted fortress built 5 centuries back. The orginal site was of the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. It was destroyed in an earthquake in the 15th century. This is a ‘must-see’. It is said that stones from the original lighthouse built in the 3rd century BC on an island in the harbor were used in its construction.
Still, the excavations in the harbor continue, and recently there have been more ancient stone found. These stones are supposed to belong to the lighthouse once it’s reconstructed.
Sultan Qaitbey who created the fortress during the 14th century when the threat of the Ottoman empire’s army was looming over. This fortress was built to defend Alexandria. Alas! His efforts were wasted when the Ottomans conquered Egypt in the 16th century. Luckily the intruders didn’t destroy the fortress because of its strategic location on a thin arm of land. This land is extended to Alexandria’s harbor.
The fortress’ current form is not the original. Original fortification suffered heavy damages when the British bombarded Alexandria during a nationalist uprising to topple British rule in 1882. It was rebuilt around the turn of the 20th century.
At present, the citadel is used only for tourist purposes and military function is held here. Today it houses a small naval museum. I didn’t get the chance to explore more because of lack of time as it was my one day tour and still a few more things to cover For a tourist who ventures to this part of Egypt for an overnight stay might find interesting to explore inside of the fortress and imagine the huge structure that once stood on its foundation.
Popular amongst tourists, local families, usually crowded with visitors enjoying the sea views, restaurants, and ice cream shops that line the street up to the fortress. We took a break for lunch and got into a restaurant to taste Egyptian cuisine.
Now we had a couple of places to visit and return to Cairo.
When Hamdy showed me this pillar without giving any information, I had doubts about this pillar which is standing in front of me. Though the statue in front of it looks similar to ancient Egyptian sculptures. This was in no way a simple pillar. Hamdy was checking my patience. Then he gave away the Pillar’s significance. It is one of the best-known ancient monuments still standing in Alexandria today. Once a part of God Serapis Temple, which is now almost in ruins. Original temple Built during the reigns of Greek kings, Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III, but was damaged due to the revolts of the Jewish population in Alexandria.
It was rebuilt again during the reign of Hadrian in the second century, but the destruction was written in its faith. It likely was destroyed, once more, after the appearance of Christianity. When I climbed almost 100 steps to reach a high platform. This must have been used for public ceremonies of Royal families. Though there is not much left, the site is worth visiting if only to stand next to the grand column known as Pompey’s Pillar. Not many know, why it’s called by that name. At least my guide or locals didn’t know.
Its is said, at the side of the platform there was a basin, which was used for purification. As per records, two galleries completely cut in rock existed at the temple back. In the 1st gallery a black statue of basalt, the 2nd gallery is known mistakenly as the Daughter Library but it seems that it was a burial for the mummies of Anubis.
Nothing to see, but to imagine, we left for the last site to visit.
Alexandria’s ancient library:
I am neither an intellectual nor claimed to be, but I am an avid reader. While looking at the itinerary, I had kept this place at the end and was planning to spend some time in this place, After all, this was something every reader dreams to visit. This is just like a historian is entering a Unesco heritage site or a mountaineer visiting one of the top peaks of the Himalayas.
Once a largest library of the ancient world with the wealth of knowledge of the greatest scholars, philosophers, and thinkers with an unmatched caliber of Homer, Plato, Socrates, and many. Alexandria’s ancient library was said to be destroyed 2000 years back in a huge fire and the fire gutted the entire wealth of knowledge.
Ever since the library is engulfed to fire and razed, it’s haunting everyone’s imagination. poets, historians, travelers, and scholars are leading amongst them. It was a great loss to literature and knowledge. Today, the idea of a ‘Universal Library’ situated in a city celebrated as the center of learning in the ancient world, has attained mythical status. Established in 3rd century BCE, with a vision of a library that would house a copy of every book in the world, an institution to rival those of Athens itself.
As per records, more than 100 scholars were housed within the Museum, whose job it was to carry out scientific research, lecture, publish, translate, copy and collect not only original manuscripts of Greek authors including the private collection of Aristotle himself but translations of works from Egypt, Assyria, Persia, as well as Buddhist texts and Hebrew scriptures.
There are so many theories about how the fire caught fire. Not getting into various reasons rumored behind the destruction of such a collection, I moved on to the new modern library.
Historians are hoping that one day a miracle will happen and the Egyptian desert will throw away the scrolls of wisdom from the library which was wealth to humankind. It will be similar to the coffins which were found this year. In Egypt, it looks like dry weather and desert are preserving the heritage to teach the modern world art of everything. Somewhere under today’s modern metropolis belly, this wealth will be discovered.
Alexandria’s modern library:
The design of the modern library is similar to a mammoth computer chip or the globe of the sun rising up from the Mediterranean coast,. The ancient library with scrolls is changed to a super modern computer which stores an enormous magnitude of knowledge and resembles a flag of hope, efficiency, and enlightenment in contrast to old buildings of this port city.
The curse to the library is still on. Even this library, too was almost destroyed twice because of the volatile conditions of Egyptian rule.
I joined a guided group tour consists of various nationalities.
Library Of Alexandria is a Symbol Of Egypt’s Efforts To Lead On Knowledge Access.
The new library complex encompasses the world’s largest library reading room, space for 8 million books, and cutting-edge libraries for arts and multimedia, children, teenagers, and the visually impaired, plus rare books. The library buildings were designed by a Norwegian team with numerous architectural devices, including optical tricks and many references to ancient Egyptian style and symbolism. It also contains the Nobel section, a special reading room where scholars must sign in to keep the record of history.
Nowadays, a state of the art fire protection systems guards this wealth of one million books of the library with slots at higher walls to absorb sound, it connotes like a beehive which stores honey in its thousands of pockets.
This was mind-boggling and in the intellectual world gigantic efforts that Egyptians only can manage to do.
Samantha, a solo Brazilian backpacker:
From this tour, I started meeting solo backpackers more than before. Maybe I opened up myself to meet new people on every tour. Met Samantha. A Brazilian backpacker. She was a solo trip to this part of the world. She was traveling alone. She had been to Iran alone before arriving in Egypt. We bonded well. She gave answers to all questions which my women (I am avoiding the word ‘Girl’, to avoid some raised eyebrows) friends ask me back home in India. In India, a woman is scared of traveling alone. Maybe because of the news of atrocities on women. If you travel out of India, these things are hardly seen or heard. You are always safe. A smile opens doors of friendship easily. A scared woman is seen in her body language. Anyone keeps a distance from a confident woman. Samantha was one of them.
We would have traveled together to Luxor and Aswan if she would have met earlier. She had a very relaxed schedule and I had tight one.
Hamdy signaled me to move on and we parted way with tips to Samantha on what not to miss in that part of Egypt.
The Graeco-Roman Museum
We still have a little bit of time left, so Hamdy gave me an option to go for a quick visit to a Museum. The Graeco-Roman Museum, located in the heart of Alexandria. According to him, this museum houses an impressive collection of 40,000 or more artifacts found in and around the city, some dating as far back to 332 BC. The museum was founded in the 19th century, quickly became an important exhibitor of ancient artifacts, and remains a key amenity in Alexandria today, along with the National Museum of Alexandria.
Taking a leave Alexandar, the Great’s Alexandria:
Along with all the places which I visited, Alexandria also has lots of other archaeological sites too, including an amphitheater built by Roman kings at the place called Kom Al-Dekka, like Eastern tombs of Pharaohs this side holds ancient combs of Muslim kings at this side called Kom el Shoqafa. This site has taken inspirations from ancient arts of Egyptian and Greco Roman, the Al-Shatby Necropolis site, and a series of tombs.
The city, however, while celebrating its glorious past also has a thoroughly modern approach to providing facilities for its residents and visitors.
This is supremely evident in the opening of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, an important library and cultural center designed to put Alexandria back on the academic map. It stands near the site of the ancient Library of Alexandria dating from the 3rd century, which was considered to be the largest library in the ancient world.
This ends my Alexandria’s whirlwind one-day tour. I had kept the icing of the cake of this tour on the last day of my Egypt trip. Great Pyramids and Gizza. Also, the khan market, famous for Egyptian memorabilia which you can carry home as mementos of this side of Egypt.
So stay tuned for my next part of the Egypt tour next. Travel and explore the world through my lens.