The History of Alexandria, VA
Modern Alexandria may be Egypt’s second most populous city, but
Alexandria’s history is second to none. Once the capital of Egypt for a
millennium, Alexandria has witnessed the rise and fall of Egyptian,
Greek, Roman, Byzantinian and Persian empires. Visitors to Alexandria’s
cultural attractions today can still catch glimpse of the city’s
Founded by Alexander the Great around 331 B.C.,
the city became the capital of Greco-Roman Egypt. While Alexander would
soon leave Egypt, the city named after him continued to grow, becoming
Egypt’s primary Greek city.
The most famous icon of Alexandria
was likely the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Built by Ptolemy I in the third
century B.C., the lighthouse was counted as one of the Seven Wonders of
the World. Located on the island of Pharos, it stood as the tallest
Egyptian structure outside the Great Pyramids, surviving, in part at
least, until earthquakes tumbled it into the sea in 1303 and 1323 A.D.
Arabs constructed the Citadel of Qaibay on its site in 1480 A.D. Today,
the site serves as the city’s Maritime Museum.
Alexandria became a
city of conflict when Julius Caesar intervened in the power struggle
between Cleopatra and Ptolemy. Octavian, who would become the Roman
Emperor Augustus, finally took control of the city in 30. B.C. Sites of
the Roman area that can still be visited today include the Roman
Theatre. The second century A.D. structure features marble seating for
up to 800 spectators and mosaic flooring.
Alexandria was nearly
destroyed by a tsunami in 365 A.D., triggered by an earthquake in Crete.
As the Roman Empire shifted to Christianity, many temples in the city
were ordered to be destroyed. In the seventh century, Persians,
Byzantines and Arabs struggled for control of the city. After a
fourteenth-month siege, Arabs captured Alexandria in 641, but the city
would not again come into its own until around 1810, when the Ottoman
Governor of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, began to rebuild Alexandria. The city
flourished during the Industrial Revolution.
All of the city’s
historical eras can be experience through a visit to the Alexandria
National Museum. The museum features more than 1,800 artifacts, all
displayed chronologically. Visitors can start at the basement to catch
as glimpse of what life in the area was like during prehistoric times
and under the rule of the Pharaohs. The first floor is dedicated to the
Greco-Roman era. The second floor features archaeological pieces from
both the Coptic and Islamic periods, including artifacts that were
recently recovered through underwater exploration.
today is home to more than four million people and is Egypt’s leading
port and transportation center. The city enjoys a vibrant cultural life,
with an abundance of fine hotels, restaurants and bars. No visit to
Alexandria is complete, however, without taking in the sites, ruins and
relics of the city’s glorious past.