City, chief port, and second-largest city of Egypt, situated between the Mediterranean and Lake Maryut; population (2006) 4,110,000. It is linked by canal with the Nile. There is oil refining, gas processing, and trade in cotton and grain. Founded in 332 BC by Alexander the Great, Alexandria was the capital of Egypt for over 1,000 years.
History A principal centre of Hellenistic culture from the time of Alexander the Great, Alexandria became part of the Roman Empire in 30 BC. From the 1st century AD the city was the home of growing Christian and Jewish communities which united successfully against Roman imperial attempts at their suppression, which ended when Constantine I made Christianity the official religion of the empire in the 3rd century AD. From the 4th century Alexandria has been the seat of a Christian patriarch. In 641 it was captured by the Muslim Arabs, and after the opening of the Cape route its trade rapidly declined. In 1798 the city was captured by French troops under Napoleon and held by the French until 1801. Early in the 19th century it began to recover its prosperity, and its growth was encouraged by its use as the main British naval base in the Mediterranean during both world wars. The city was damaged in frequent air raids in World War II. Of the large European community, most were expelled after the Suez Crisis in 1956 and their property confiscated.
Features Few relics of antiquity remain. The ruins of Pharos, the first lighthouse and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, now lie under the Mediterranean at Kawm ad-Dikkah, where these and other remains of classical antiquity continue to be investigated by archaeologists. The library, said to have contained 700,000 volumes, was destroyed by the caliph Umar in 640. Pompey's Pillar is a column 28 m/92 ft high erected, as a landmark visible from the sea, by the emperor Diocletian. Two obelisks which once stood before the Caesarum temple are now in London (Cleopatra's Needle) and New York. There are also the catacombs of Kom esh-Shuqafa and the museum of Graeco-Roman antiquities.
Location Alexandria is situated on a strip of land separating the Mediterranean from Lake Mareotis. Originally the town was built upon a mole (breakwater made of large stones) called Heptastadium, which joined the island of Pharos to the mainland. Since then sedimentary deposits have added considerably to the width of the mole. The modern city is built partly upon the isthmus which developed from the original mole, and partly upon a T-shaped peninsula. The Mahmudiya Canal, connecting Alexandria with the Nile, runs to the south of the city and, by a series of locks, enters the
The ancient city The buildings in the Brucheion (Greek) quarter included the royal palaces of the Ptolemies; the Great Theatre, afterwards utilized as a fortress by Julius Caesar during the siege after the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC); the Poseideion, or temple to the god of the sea; the Timonium built by Mark Antony; the Emporium or Exchange; the temple of Caesareum, now lying underneath the new sea wall; the Gymnasium; the Palaestra; the mausoleum of Alexander and the museum and library. The Necropolis lay to the west. A feature of the town was the number of subterranean cisterns running along the spaces under the houses and capable of holding a supply of water sufficient to last the whole population a year.
Rise and fall At the height of its prosperity Alexandria contained, according to Diodorus, approximately 300,000 free citizens, while it is probable that there was an even larger number of slaves. Placed between the east and west,
it consequently became a centre of commerce. In 30 BC, on the death of Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, it fell into the possession of the Romans, when it reached the zenith of its glory. A great centre of Hellenism, it was, at the same time,
commercially prosperous to an extraordinary degree, and also the centre of culture and intellect. For a long time it remained as the world's foremost port. But during the reign of Caracalla (188–217) it declined considerably in its commercial greatness, and the rise of Constantinople only served to hasten its fall. Meanwhile Christianity had been introduced, and had quickly made headway. Cairo was chosen by the Egyptian caliphs to be the capital of Egypt; the passage round the Cape of Good Hope was discovered, and Europeans found their way to the continent of America; significant events such as these proved a negative influence on Alexandria and its decay seemed imminent. By the time it was conquered by the Turks in 1517 few of its glories remained. However the city progressed under the Ottoman pasha Mehmet Ali (1769–1849). In 1882 Arabi Pasha angered the British by his maltreatment of the Europeans during his uprising, and a British fleet was dispatched here. The bombardment of Alexandria followed, and of the few remaining emblems of antiquity, most were utterly destroyed. A few days later the city was sacked and a large part of it was destroyed by a disastrous fire.
Climate Alexandria's climate differs from the desert climate of the surrounding country. There is regular rainfall during the winter, while the summer heat is tempered by sea breezes.
catacombs of Kom esh-Shuqafa
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