Alexandria the Great; Anna Melville James Goes in Search of Secrets in the City Founded by a Greek Hero

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), September 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

Alexandria the Great; Anna Melville James Goes in Search of Secrets in the City Founded by a Greek Hero


Byline: ANNA MELVILLE JAMES

WE DON'T concentrate-on all that new stuff here,' said the guide at Cairo's Museum of Ancient Antiquities, breezing past a display case dedicated to the Ptolemies, the last pharaonic dynasty (323-30BC) to rule ancient Egypt. 'That's all in Alexandria.' Behind the glass, garish sarcophagi with European faces gazed out gloomily, as if they wished they werethere too.

'That's what comes of coming late to a party,' they seemed to be saying. 'We sit in the corner while the flashy Ramseses and Tutankhamens get the attention.' It wasn't always this way. Once the greatest of all the cities of antiquity, the port of Alexandria on Egypt's Mediterranean coast was the centre of the civilised world during the reign of the cosmopolitan Ptolemies.

Its fortunes have been erratic over the centuries, waning with the conquering Muslims in the 7th Century AD, rising again in the early 20th Century as a colonial retreat for intellectuals and writers.

Today the city's historical ghosts lie, barely perceptible, on top of each other like tissue-paper layers.

Expat resident Lawrence Durrell referred to 'Alex' as the capital of memory, and now Hollywood plans to remind us with two epics about the city's founder, the Macedonian hero Alexander the Great.

Oliver Stone's film, starring Colin Farrell, is released this November, while Leonardo DiCaprio sandals up for Baz Lurhmann's version in 2005.

There's no guarantee that Colin or Leo will prove effective PR for Alex - after all, films about Cleopatra VII, Alexandria's last Ptolemy ruler (with her son) and the generic Hollywood choice for 'Most Convincing Ancient Egyptian', have not inspired a tourist rush to rival the pyramids.

However, the three-hour excursion from Cairo certainly peppers up the more familiar sights and stories of an Egyptian visit.

You'll also have gone further than Alexander himself or either film production: none actually visited Alexandria. Alexander commissioned the great city after taking Egypt from the Persian empire, but was killed in Asia before he saw it; the film companies thought Thailand a more authentic setting.

Authentic or not, the ancient city is long gone, racked by earthquakes, floods, indifference and old age.

Very little remains to be seen.

Today's corniche city is part Marbella with minarets - a functional seaside resort popular with Cairenes - and part colonial fantasia, stitched together by genteel squares such as Midan Saad Zaghloul, overlooked by Durrell's beloved Hotel Cecil and French patisseries where waitresses in aprons still serve tarte tatin.

AT THE centre, old Alex's railway station resembles an Agatha Christie film set. To the east, Montazah, an oasis of palms and the palaces of former king Farouk I, now houses top-end hotels and beaches.

You can sunbathe here. The private beaches are cleaner, emptier and relaxed in dress code; although there's something cooling about swimming fully clothed, which is mandatory for women on public beaches.

In the compact old city it's possible to 'do' the sights in a day - and Alex's wide breezy streets and friendliness make walking pleasurable, especially at night when they fill with a Mediterranean promenade.

It's not just time but style that has reduced Alex's past to hints. Unlike the great stone monuments of Upper Egypt that lend themselves well to eternity, Alexandria was a capital of intellectual artefacts, of ideas, trade, delicate Nile delta pottery and mosaics.

Its most famous monument was the Mouseion, a collection of observatories, laboratories and the Great Library of Alexandria, torched in 293AD by Christian mobs. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Alexandria the Great; Anna Melville James Goes in Search of Secrets in the City Founded by a Greek Hero
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.