City Guide: Alexandria
During our recent Christmas holidays to Egypt, we also visited Alexandria. While we weren’t blessed with the best weather and had to fight the rather annoying traffic jams along the Corniche, we were still able to see a few interesting sites.
Be aware that some of the nicest places in Alexandria are a little further away from the city center. Yet, you always need a car, taxi or Uber to discover the city!
Montaza Palace in Alexandria
Towards the eastern end of the Corniche you can find the beautiful Montaza Palace. Originally the Montaza Palace only incorporated the Salamlek Palace, which was built in 1892 by Khedive Abbas the Second, who was the last ruler of the Khedivate of Egypt and Sudan. Later on in 1932, King Fuad the First added the larger Al-Haramlik Palace as his summer palace to the grounds as well as the Royal gardens. The Al-Haramlik Palace presents a mixture of Turkish and Florentine architecture.
While you cannot really spot anything spectacular about the gardens, both the location and the palace are quite beautiful. You cannot actually enter the Palace, but if you pass it there is a small bridge which leads to an area from which you can overlook the sea. The smaller of the two palaces has been renovated by president Anwar El-Sadat and was most recently used by the former Egyptian president.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was one of the most pleasant surprises of our trip. While most parts of the city seem very dated and in deep need of refurbishment, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a very modern and clean complex. The library was built to honour the Royal Library of Alexandria, which used to be one of the largest and most important ones in ancient times, but was destroyed by a fire resulting in the loss of thousands of books and papyrus scrolls.
The idea of a new library was originally sparked by the Alexandria University and found support from UNESCO and the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. For the design a competition was organised by UNESCO, which a Norwegian architecture office won. Construction of the new library began in 1995. The immense project was mainly funded by other Arab states. Inside the library there are apart from the main library complex, a few small museums with old books, pictures and maps. These give you an insight into what Alexandria used to look like in ancient times .
Citadel of Qaitbay in Alexandria
Another impressive building in Alexandria is the citadel which is located near the eastern harbour. It was built in 1477 as a defensive fortress.
Previously, this is where the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria was located, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The corniche in Alexandria
The corniche is the promenade along the sea. This is, however, not comparable to a western beach promenade. Its starting point is the eastern harbour where the Citadel of Qaitbay is located. It runs about ten miles along the coastline until the Montaza Palace. The Corniche represents one of the major streets. There are basically traffic jams 24/7.
From the Hilton Alexandria Corniche where we stayed it took us about an hour just to get to the library. However, alongside you can also spot a few nice buildings. Between the Citadel and the Library we saw the French Consulate Building, El Gondy el Maghool Square, a few court buildings and El Kobba El Samaweya.
Pompey’s Pillar in Alexandria
Another interesting sight in Alexandria is the Pompey’s Pillar. With a height of 20.46 meters, it is one of the largest monolithic pillars to ever be built.
The pillar was erected to commemorate Diocletian’s victory over an Alexandrian revolt.
City center of Alexandrina
If you are interested in seeing a little more of the real life in Alexandria, you might want to visit the city center. This is where you can find the train station (it’s a rundown building, which once used to look nice), where the few trains to Cairo and Southern Egypt depart.
In the same area, there’s also the Alexandria Amphitheatre, which actually is no amphitheatre, but rather an university. Yet, it is still called the same. The whole area is not exactly special, but an interesting spot to see the Roman influence on Alexandria.
I’d recommend strolling around the city center a little bit, walk through one or another market (= souq) and maybe take a picture of the Alexandria Opera House.
We really enjoyed walking through the streets and see the ‘real’ Alexandria!
Overall impressions of Alexandria
In comparison to Cairo, we found Alexandria to be a bit boring. While there are a few interesting buildings to see, there generally seems less to do in this city. Moreover, the hassle with the traffic jams and having to sit in a car for two to three hours everyday just to visit one or two sights was rather annoying. Nonetheless, if you are in Alexandria we’d definitely recommend checking out some of the remains of the ancient Alexandria.