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 glorious past.

      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.

      Alexandria 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.

Rex Reiley
Rex Reiley
6084 Franconia Rd Suite A Alexandria VA 22310