Famous for being called the “Pearl of the Mediterranean,” the captivating Alexandria will fascinate you with its mix of history and modernity. Although very little remains of the old city, Alexandria still retains its Mediterranean ambience and old European residence houses, combined with old cafes and Greco Roman monuments. The Catacombs of Kom el-Shouqafa, the underwater ruins of Montazah and Maamoura and the city’s vibrant arts scene make Alexandria a great sightseeing destination. Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque and the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark are also sights to behold.
The beauty and cosmopolitanism of Alexandria inspired great authors such as the British novelist E.M. Forster, the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy who respectively lived in Alexandria in the early and late 19th century, and Lawrence Durrell who lived and wrote about the city during World War II.
The Alexandrian coastline extends on no less than 70 km, from the north-western side of the Nile delta to Mariout Lake in the east. The coast is dotted with beautiful bays and harbours, such as Abu-Qir and the crescent-shaped Alexandrian Eastern Harbour which is overlooked by the majestic Qaitbay Fortress.
The Corniche in Alexandria is a treat during both summer and winter. Starting from Ras El Tin and stretching all the way to Montazah you can enjoy spectacular view of the White Mediterranean. The Corniche was developed in the 1930s and further developments were made to it in the early 1990s. Beaches stretch along the coast from Maamoura in the east and all the way to the Agamy beach west of Alexandria.
The temperate Mediterranean climate in Alexandria ensures cooler summers and warmer winters than in other parts of Egypt. While winters are mostly rainy with temperatures ranging between 10 and 20°C, summers are renowned for the refreshing sea breeze, with temperatures between 22 and 34°C.
When in Alexandria, you have to visit the new library building: it is the largest reading space in the world, including over 2000 chairs for potential readers.
The futuristic disc-like structure was opened in 2002. The whole building is covered in scripts and letters from almost all the languages of the world to reflect the multi-cultural heritage and spirit of the library. The library will eventually house more than 8 million books.
A traditional visit of the Library starts in the main hall where you’ll be offered the assistance of multi-lingual guides (Arabic, English, French, Italian, and Spanish).
The library houses 4 permanent museums dedicated to Antiquities, Manuscripts, the former Egyptian President Sadat, and History of Science. A remarkable feature of the library is CULTURAMA, an interactive display of Egypt’s cultural heritage: 9 huge computer screens are arranged in a semi-circular shape thus creating a display resembling the traditional war or history panoramas. Thanks to the interactivity of the screens, the presenter can explore 5000 years long timeline; when specific items and milestones are clicked on by the presenter, the exhibition displays a further level of data.
For more information on the current events and exhibitions at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, visit the library’s official website http://www.bibalex.org/en/Page/ContactUs
Abu Al-Abbas Al-Mursi is Alexandria’s largest mosque; with a cream coloured façade, four great domes, arabesque designs and a high minaret, the mosque is a beautiful sight.
Built in 1775 to commemorate the life of an Andalusian Sheikh that was buried on the site, it is one of the most visited mosques on the White Med coast.
While visiting this amazing sanctuary, do not forget to have a long and thorough look at the colonnade of elongated arches, the eight monolithic granite columns and the beautiful marble floor.
Also known as the Sayed Darwish Theatre, since it has been named after the famed Egyptian singer and composer who put music to the Egyptian anthem “Bilady, Bilady, Bilady”, the Alexandria Opera House is a small but amazing cultural venue of the Pearl of the Mediterranean.
In 2000, the building was put of Egypt’s National Heritage list. Consequently, it has undergone seven years of thorough renovation works that gave back its splendor to the delicately decorated premises of the opera.
The venue hosts today world-class events, including all-time favourite operas and ballets performed by local and international companies. The gorgeous auditorium also hosts concerts, recitals, Arab and international festivals and cultural gatherings.
If you don’t have time to drop in at the tourism office of Alexandria to grab the latest events schedule, consult the updated Sayed Darwish Theatre online schedule.
Go down a winding stairway to see how deep the ancient Graeco-Romans tunnelled into the bedrock. Initially built for a single wealthy family practicing a fusion of Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman religion; the Catacombs of Kom el-Shouqafa entombed over 300 mummies. See bearded serpents crowned with the crowns of upper and lower Egypt, the hovering solar disc above the archway and customary funerary deities joined with Graeco-Roman motifs. The catacombs are a monumental testament to the enduring myths of Ancient Egypt despite centuries of Greek and Roman rule. Kom el-Shoqqafa means literally “piles of shreds.” It was discovered by pure chance in 1900 when a donkey drawn cart fell into a pit.
Built in the 1480s, the small citadel of Qaitbay overlooks Alexandria’s Eastern Harbor and contains ruins from the all famous Pharos or Lighthouse of Alexandria, a former wonder of the world.
Legend has it that the prominent landmark stood an incredible 135 meters high. Imagine that donkeys had to go up and down the double spiral staircase carrying day and night loads of timber to fuel the lighthouse’s lantern!
Inside the Qaitbay Fort, you can find the Qaitbay Maritime Museum, which houses a collection of several interesting artifacts from the wars that it has witnessed. You can see relics from the Roman sea battles, the Napoleonic wars in which the fort was bombarded, as well as the British wars in which it was taken. There is also an interesting collection of sea diaphragms and sea creatures.
Located close to the center of the city, the Alexandria National Museum nicely sums up the history of Alexandria in the three floors of the now renovated Italianate style Al-Saad Bassili Pasha Palace. On your trip to this aged city wander through the beautiful palace and see the artifacts from the four main ages of Egypt: Ancient, Greco-Roman, Coptic, and Islamic, there is also an array of more modern items such as royal jewels and an interesting collection of antique coins. Learn about the interesting history of Alexandria as you explore the different chambers which are color coordinated to the period of their displays, and don’t forget to get a camera permit at the door as there are some wonderful photo opportunities
Kom el-Dikka, which literally means a “pile of rubble,” was a slum until 1959 when a team of Poles excavated the site in search of the tomb of Alexander the Great. With 800 marble seats, graffiti of chariot team supporters, and two forecourts with mosaic flooring, the discovery was not a disappointment.
If you want to get a glimpse of what the Jewish community was like in its prime, when no less than 50.000 Jews lived in Alexandria, visit the 150 year-old Eliyahu Hanavi Sephardic synagogue on Nabi Daniel Street. The synagogue’s impressive interior will give you an idea of just how vibrant the community was. With towering Italian marble columns and brass nameplates of its male patrons, the synagogue seats over 700 people. There is also extra seating upstairs for women. At the front of the building is a closed chamber that holds 30 Torah scrolls which were collected from the city’s other synagogues when they closed.
Visit St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral the oldest church in Africa and the seat of his Holiness the Pope of Alexandria, Patriarch of all Africa and the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Take notice of the beautiful icons and mosaics that fill the silence of the Cathedral with a surreal beauty. Make sure to dress conservatively and respect the sanctity of the location.
Walking down the Alexandrian world famous waterfront corniche you can’t miss the eye-catching beauty of the fantastic beaches and park of Montazah Gardens. Take a walk through the green and flourishing alleys of the park and have a look at the old Salamlek hotel in all its splendor. The El Salamlek Palace was actually built in 1892 for H.H. Khedive Abbas Helmi II as the Khedive’s hunting lodge. It is located on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, thus offering spectacular views of the coast.
Owner, the Greek Cleovolous Moustakas, in Ramleh Station in Alexandria, locals and tourists alike have been flocking to this charming shop to enjoy exclusive and delicious pastries. Today, you’ll still find the same mouth-watering cakes and confectioneries on display. And they’re still being prepared according to the same recipes that were used by the founder himself ages ago.
However, the famous pastry shop has gone a long way since the days it was one of Alexandria’s flagship café-trottoirs, along with Pastroudis and Elite. Today, additionally to the pastry shop, the locale houses the fine-dining “La Veranda” restaurant where you can sample exquisite French and Greek dishes in a classy atmosphere that will transport you back to the days when the Pearl of the Mediterranean lived its glorious era.
For more info, visit the Delices official website
When in Alexandria, try to wake up early someday, skip your hotel’s breakfast, and get yourself down to Midan Ramla. There, you’ll find Cafe Trianon. The place has been there for decades, since 1905. In the early 20th century, the world renowned Greek poet Constantin Cavafy spent most of his free time at this very same place, when not working in the offices that were located in the same building one floor above – to learn more about Cavafy, don’t miss out on a visit to Cavafy’s Museum, near Misr Station.
Throughout the years, the amazing Art-Deco styled immense tea room hosted prominent guests including Egyptian royalty members, foreign presidents and the Arab diva Umm Kulthum.
Cafe Trianon is famed to this day for its delicious continental-style breakfasts. But keep in mind that these mouth-watering platters aren’t served after 11 am. If you miss out on breakfast, you can still come for an equally fulfilling brunch, lunch, dinner or coffee & pastry break.
Founded in 1900, the Athineos is one of Alexandria‘s oldest coffee shops and restaurants. Located opposite Midan Ramla, the building still exudes its ancient charm and has become over the past few years a favorite haunt of tourist groups touring the Pearl of the Mediterranean. Lunches are organized in a buffet setting within the restaurant’s huge dining room. If you’re planning to explore Alexandria at your own pace, try getting there in the early morning for a coffee and breakfast in the company of the original unmovable Alexandrian customers. That is when you’ll be able to enjoy all the quietness you need to gaze freely at the ornamental details of the place: the high decorated ceilings and walls, the Art-Deco furniture, the beautiful imposing columns and the Greek inspired sculptures.
Located in one of Alexandria’s most luxurious areas, the San Stefano houses THE FOUR SEASONS HOTEL, private residences, a private marina, and a lavish mall: the Grand Plaza. The Grand Plaza has 4 floors of retail shops; there is also a state of the art 10 screen cinema, a children’s amusement center, a Metro supermarket, several coffee shops, and a food court with an endless variety of choices. San Stefano is all about extravagance so if you are looking for the finer more distinguished brands, this is the place to shop, there are also some mid-range international brands available.