Sunday, July 22: This morning I pretend to be sick so that I can take a two-day excursion to Alexandria with Basim, the brain surgeon. Luckily I only have to play hooky one day, as tomorrow is a National Holiday in Egypt. Lisa takes a parting shot of me before she takes off on the bus to class.
Of course the main excuse Basim has to come to Alexandria is to do some kind of business. He has to take a paper somewhere, but he’s very vague about the nature of this paper. No matter. He drops me at the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina to explore. He tells me he will call me when he’s finished with his business.
This boldly modern library is the 20th-century replacement for the legendary library of ancient Alexandria. The original library was founded in the late 3rd century BC and was considered a classical center of learning. This modern library resembles a giant angled discus with giant letters, hieroglyphs and symbols from every known alphabet engraved on its exterior walls. The main rotunda is all windows and can hold up to 8 million books (Lonely Planet Middle East).
According to the library’s website, Bibliotheca Alexandrina aims to be a center of excellence in the production and dissemination of knowledge and to be a place of dialogue, learning and understanding between cultures. It seeks to recapture the spirit of the original ancient Library of Alexandria, which is said to have held 500,000 volumes.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina aspires to be:
- The world’s window on Egypt.
- Egypt’s window on the world.
- A leading institution of the digital age.
- A center for learning, tolerance, dialogue and understanding. (Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Overview)
After I explore the library for a good long while, I take a walk along 26th of July Street which lies on the corniche along the Eastern Harbor. It’s extremely hot and humid and I am miserably dripping with sweat.
After a while, I decide to have a seat in the shade at an outdoor cafe along the corniche, where I drink a cold mango juice and wait for Basim to return from his business.
Alexandria was established in 332 BC by Alexander the Great. It became a major trade center and a focal point for learning for the entire Mediterranean world, according to Lonely Planet Middle East. Under the Roman Empire, the city continued as capital of Egypt and the Byzantine Empire, and was quite cosmopolitan. From the 4th century on, the city declined. After the Arab conquest in 641, the capital was moved to Cairo. The 1952 revolution “put an end to much of the city’s pluralistic charm.” (Lonely Planet Middle East)
After a couple of hours Basim finally returns. We head down to the end of the Corniche to visit Fort Qaitbey. According to Wikipedia, Fort Qaitbey is situated on the eastern point of Pharos Island. This citadel was built in 1480 by Sultan Qaitbay on the site of the Pharos Lighthouse to protect the city from the crusaders who attacked the city by sea. The famous Lighthouse of Alexandria continued to function until the time of the Arab conquest in 641, then several disasters occurred and the shape of lighthouse was changed to some extent, but it still continued to function.
During the 11th century an earthquake destroyed the top of the lighthouse and the bottom was used as a watchtower. A small Mosque was built on the top. About 1480 A.D the place was fortified as part of the coastal defensive edifices. Later a castle-looking citadel was built as a prison. Now it’s a Maritime Museum (Wikitravel: Alexandria).
After we explore Fort Qaitbey, we seek out a hotel along the Corniche. Basim drops me off and I go in separately to check in. I get a room on the 10th floor. After he parks the car, he checks in to a 5th floor room. An Egyptian man is not allowed to share a room with a woman in a hotel unless he can show marriage papers.
I take a picture of the Corniche from my 10th floor balcony.
After we rest a bit, Basim calls and asks me to meet him outside on the Corniche. He wants to take me to see Montazah Palace. According to Wikipedia, the Salamlek Palace, built in 1892 by Khedive Abbas, originally occupied the grounds. It was used as a hunting lodge and residence for his companion.
The larger Al-Haramlik Palace and royal gardens were added to the Montaza Palace grounds, built by King Fuad I in 1932 as a summer palace. It is a mixture of Turkish and Florentine styles; it has two towers, one rising distinctively high above with elaborated Italian Renaissance design details. The palace has long open arcades facing the sea along each floor.
President Anwar El-Sadat renovated the original Salamlek Palace as an official presidential residence. It was most recently used by former president Hosni Mubarak (Wikipedia: Montaza Palace).
We walk around the Montazah Gardens until the sun sets, then we go have a light dinner in an outdoor cafe along the Corniche. All I know is it was great to miss my classes today at Al Azhar. 🙂