ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Alexandria

BRIDE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN, Alexandria, Egypt

2006.06.04.

After an isolated retreat at Siwa Oasis, I once again headed back onto the road. This time, the destination was my home in Toronto. The journey from the Egypt’s Western Desert to Canada took me first to Alexandria and Cairo by land, and then Athens and Zurich by air before touching down on the North American soil. I took an 8-hour night bus leaving Siwa at 22:00, and arriving Alexandria in early morning the next day. I sat beside a friendly old lady who kept on offering me peanuts. After some snacks and chat, I felt asleep with my headphone music. When I get up, Alexandria was just minutes away.

Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, Alexandria is the largest city by the Mediterranean and the second largest city in Egypt. In the Classical era, the city was well known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and its Great Library, the largest library in the Classical World with 400,000 scrolls. The city itself was once the largest city in the western world before overtaken by Rome. Alexandria remained as the capital of Egypt for a thousand years from Ptolemaic Egypt, throughout much of the Roman and Byzantine era until the Muslim conquest in 641 AD, when the political centre of Egypt was shifted to Cairo. By that time, the magnificent city that once rivaled Rome and Constantinople was already largely plundered and destroyed. In the modern age, Alexandria regained a part of its former glory as an important port of international trading, connecting Egypt and its products (such as Egyptian cotton) to the outside world.

Before leaving Alexandria for Cairo by train, I had a bit of free time to wander around the port city.
I slowly found my way through a number of residential neighborhood towards the sea.
Between 1882 to 1956, Egypt was under the British colonial rule. Buildings from the colonial era became a major part of the architectural heritage as Alexandria entered the modern age.
Beautiful ornament on an old building in downtown Alexandria
Behind the 1.2km sea mole known as Heptastadion, the Great Harbour of Alexandria or Al Mina’ ash Sharqiyah (Eastern Harbour) is a safe haven for fishing boats.
The Minaa El Sharkia Beach near Citadel of Qaibay is also a popular spot for locals seeking for a moment of relaxation.
Boys swam in the water at the Minaa El Sharkia Beach.
I walked along the Minaa El Sharkia Beach towards Manar El Islam Mosque and the Citadel of Qaitbay.
The Citadel of Qaitbay is a 15th century fortress built by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay. The Qaitbay Citadel is an important defensive stronghold at the Mediterranean coast. Formerly known as Pharos Island, the citadel is situated at the former site of the legendary Lighthouse of Alexandria.
Known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse was damaged by a series of earthquakes from the 8th century to the 14th century. The massive earthquake in 1303 caused a decisive blow to the structure. The remnant was then built over by Qaitbay Citadel in 1480.
The legendary lighthouse was long gone, but the 3rd century BC Heptastadion continued to harbour the people of Alexandria.
Grey Mullet, Red Mullet, Sea Bass, Red Smelt, Bluefish and Sole are some of the fish found in the Mediterranean near Alexandria.
The downtown of Alexandria and the waterfront Corniche unfold along the waterfront of Eastern Harbour.
After spending some time by the waterfront, I slowly walked through Downtown Alexandria to the railway station.
Alexandria is full of buildings of distinct character.
Finally I arrived at Sidi Gaber Railway Station, the oldest railway station in Egypt, for my train back to Cairo.

FARAWAY OASIS IN THE GREAT SAND SEA , Siwa Oasis, Egypt

2006.05.31.

In the midst of the Great Sand Sea in the Western Desert 560km west of Cairo, Siwa Oasis is one of the most remote destinations and a town deepest in the mighty Sahara that tourists may reach in Egypt. Only 50km away from the Libyan border, Siwa lies in a natural depression about 19m below sea level. Occupied mostly by a group of Berber people who have developed their own culture and distinct dialect Siwi, Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements. Until a tarmac road was built in 1984 to Marsa Matruh at the Mediterranean Coast, Siwa was only accessible by camels. Despite its remoteness, Siwa has long been a famous place in times of antiquity when a Greek oracle temple dedicated to the Egyptian sun god Amun was established in about 700 BC. In 331 BC, a celebrated conqueror from Macedon set sail from his newly founded Egyptian city by the Mediterranean Coast to Mersa Matruh, and then marched inland into the desert to reach the remote oracle. His visit has forever put Siwa on the map of history. This military genius is commonly known as Alexander the Great.

Home to spectacular landscapes, ancient ruins and distinct oasis culture, Siwa has been considered as an alternative destination in Egypt away from the popular Nile region and Red Sea resorts. For me, the simple idea of venturing out to the far end of the Western Desert in Egypt was tempting enough. Before the emergence of smartphones, Instagram and even Facebook, Siwa was not a well known tourist destination back in 2006. I learnt about Siwa Oasis from Lonely Planet guidebook. Given the anticipated impact of speedy globalization, I feared that the remote Oasis would turn into a resort town in a few years’ time. Thus I decided to pick Siwa as the last stop of my 2006 Middle East trip.

My journey to Siwa began with a 2.5 hour train ride from Cairo Ramses Station to Alexandria.
From Alexandria, it was another 10 hour bus ride to Siwa with a brief stop at Marsa Matruh.
Upon arrival, I checked in at one of the several simple guest houses in town centre.
Entering the heart of the oasis town via its main road for the first time, I was amazed by the ruined mud fortress, Shali Ghadi, in the middle of Siwa.
Most buildings in Siwa are constructed with local mud and palm logs.
Donkey and horse carts are quite common in Siwa.
There is enough water in Siwa to sustain donkeys and horses.
Local mud bricks and palm logs are the main construction material in Siwa. Erosion from rain and wind would gradually wear down the structures.
My visit was in early summer, and it was extremely hot in Siwa during the day.
As a famous oasis in the Great Sand Sea, palm tree groves are never far away in Siwa.
Donkey cart is the local taxi in Siwa.
During the hottest hours, the town appeared to be empty except occasional kids playing in the streets.
The mud houses in Siwa appear like coming straight out from a movie set.
Cats are everywhere in Egypt, even at the remote desert oasis.
All locals I met in Siwa were very friendly.
While appearing quite empty, Siwa Oasis actually has a population of about 33,000. The whole town is filled with houses.
Many houses in Siwa are covered with plaster over the mud and salt bricks.
In some occasions, text are painted onto the outer walls of houses.
The rough texture of the buildings in Siwa is actually quite photogenic.
Siwa is a great place to stroll around and get lost in. Many tourists, including me, would hire a bike for attractions outside of Siwa.