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Write: Işık Canan Kaya - Photo: Ahmet Bilal Arslan
Egypt’s Mermaid Alexandria
Carrying the name of the undefeatable commander, Alexander the Great of the ancient times, the city is full of reflections of the Eastern Mediterranean’s thousands of years old magnificent past.
If the heat of the sands of the solitary desert warm your heart, and if the attraction of ancient legends and oriental Egypt full of the mystery of the pyramids captures your soul, you definitely should go to Alexandria and brief in the Mediterranean in this city shrouded in the color of the sunset which you won’t be able to take your eyes off. Everyone who sees it understands why Alexander the Great loved this city enough to give you his name. The Egyptians call this beautiful city Alex for short. I am going to do the same. Thank you, Alex, for this journey that enriched my inner world and dreams.
JOURNEY IN TIME
When we decided to see Alex, the beloved of Cleopatra, we found ourselves in the Ramses Train Station in Cairo. (Now, you can directly fly to Alexandria by Turkish Airlines.) The train we boarded with the tickets we excitedly bought at the ticket window is more comfortable and empty than we expected, but this is the only point of departure. Our train carries a significant crowd with those who board at subsequent stations and it is better this way. For I enjoy being among and watching different faces and costumes coming from different places, families, students and farmers. I don’t neglect to look outside.
When I see the lands enlivered by the Nile which gives life to the desert, those working in the fields, shepherds herding animals and children playing in front of their Egyptian rural houses, I am filed with the joy of life. Even though the journey which was said to take three hours takes a little longer, still I can’t get enough. Most of the travelers get off at the Sidi Gaber Station. After that the last stop is the Alexandria Train Station. Suddenly I feel like I am in the midst of a film shot in the middle of the 1900’s. More modern and much cleaner, this journey in time with those around me is fantastic.
DISCOVERING THE CITY
We start off with the taxi we are in. Today the fortress of Mamluk Sultan Kayıt Bey stands where the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World used to stand, which I had imagined many times since I first saw its drawings. The scent of the Mediterranean which struck my nose when I got out of the taxi is still fresh in my mind.
We enter the fortress as if we were explorers. We climb the steps with tourists coming from all over the world. Alex is located between the East and West Harbors in the shape of the letter “T” and the fortress is on the edge of the right arm of then “T”. Thus, both sides of the city can easily be seen from the top of the fortress.
What impresses me most is the deep blue sea filled with dozens of small fishing boats and white-sailed boats. I can look at this scene for a whole day without ever leaving and even longer if I could stop time. On the other hand, I do not want to make Alex’s other wonders wait too long. Before leaving the Qait Bey Fortress, we enter the Navy Museum next to it. This was restored in 1984 in a Walt Disney manner. Finding its original form and display very interesting, we leave.
The phaetons we see at the exit give a cause to smile. We prefer them while going to the Alexandria Library. While advancing to the sound of hoof beats, we compare the road to the Izmir’s shoreline. We end the pleasurable phaeton trip that passed by looking at tall white buildings on the right and squares among them where Greco-Roman columns show themselves, magnificent domed Arab style architectural works and, on the left, the sea which is enlivened by small, gentle waves. We are stunned when we see the Alexandria Library standing before the Mediterranean with its exceptional modern architecture.
It is a huge complex, a wonder of design built entirely for knowledge, culture and art. The library has an eight million book capacity, a main reading room of immense proportions, conference halls, museums, art galleries, restoration workshops and a planetarium. With deep respect for knowledge, we bid farewell to this library that was constructed with details that would honor its historical predecessor which was the largest library of the ancient world before it was burned.
As we listen to the call of our hungry stomachs, we found ourselves at the first restaurant we see on the shoreline. After a brief moment of hesitation in choosing from among the delicious, fresh and endless variety of sea products, we begin discussing where we will go while we eat our tasty food.
Our new route is modern downtown. Transportation is very easy. Again passing by magnificent mosques and churches with original architecture, we reach the Al-Hurriyat Boulevard from Midan Tahrir. While walking and looking at display windows in shops on this boulevard, we find local and foreign, big and little brand names of all kinds. There are cafés to rest in and restaurants with Egyptian fast foods from falafel and kusheyri to hamburgers and pizza. The people of Alex are compassionate, warm blooded and talkative; they ask where we come from. When they learn that we have come from Turkey, they please us with compliments like “ahsen’un nas” or “the best of mankind.”
While going down the cordon after the busy downtown, we visit the Abu’l Abbas Mosque, a monument of art constructed for worship. It is Alex’s widest mosque constructed in 1775 with four domes and a high minaret upon the tomb of the famous Ahmed Abu Al Abbas Al Mursi, a prominent 13th century Sufi. Now we are beginning to walk like travelers, not guests, on the streets we have met and blended in all day long.
When we begin to feel tired at every step, we say “it’s time to go to a hotel.” We choose a suitable one from the hotels that can be found in every district and fit every budget. We are met with the same interest and smiling faces that we have seen all day long. The city’s Mediterranean people give us the sense that we are in the Europe of the Middle East. It will be unfair if we return home before seeing some more of Alex so we carefully look into everywhere and make new plans.
After an elaborate breakfast, we continue our pleasurable tour of the Mediterranean streets in order to be able to see the other beautiful things hidden in Alex, with whom we feel very comfortable with in spite the fact that we just met. Alex was one of the most prominent cities of the Ottoman, Rome and Ancient Greek civilizations just as it is for Egypt today. Unable to be thought of otherwise with its natural beauty, Alex is a center of attraction for today’s history lovers. As individuals curious about history, we also want to see the museums. The Greco-Roman Museum interests us the most. It is located in a very pleasant settlement district.
There are many villas with elegant architecture in the area that are pleasing to the eye. The museum is full of breathtaking historical pieces, sculpture and coins. Of course, the remains of Greek and Roman culture are not just these. Shortly we reach the Greek necropolis in the old district. The walled tombs and art make our heads swirl. This is not just a visit to Alex, but one to ancient civilizations. The close-by Greek Amphitheater immediately draws our attention. Even if the dimensions are not as large as the one in Ephesus, it is still a great cultural heritage reaching us today. One place we can not pass by without seeing is the Pompeii Column on the southern part of an-Nabi Boulevard. After the Greek and Roman works we were amazed by, the sphinxes in the surroundings of the column reclining with their air of mystery remind us that we are still in Egypt.
THE MONTAZAH PALACE AND BEACH
We travel 20 kilometers east to see the Ottoman face of Alex. We find the Montazah Palace in a well kept grove that opens to the sea to the north, adorned with endless varieties of flowers, palm and date trees. It continues to welcome local and foreign visitors with hospitality remaining from the Ottomans. According to what we learned, this beautiful garden is a place where lovers meet and where the locals picnic on Sunday and an indispensable rest area for tourists.
The public part of the palace offers five-star hotel service today. Learning that there are many other luxurious hotels in the Montazah district, we leave ourselves to the cool and refreshing waters of the Mediterranean from the beach of the new hotel we settled into to forget how tired we are. We are happy to have another reason to extend our visit to Alex. Every part of this city is more meaningful than the last and deserves to be seen and lived. Thank you again, Alex, for being this beautiful.
With its young and qualified population Alexandria is one of the prominent cities in Egypt.
A work from the Mamluk Period, the Qaitbay Citadel is a friend of Mediterranean waves.
Alexandria stands out with its ultra modern library which enlivens the memory of the famous ancient library.
One of the city’s most impessing architectural monuments, the Abu Al Abbas Mosque is Alexandria’s largest mosque.
With its old trees, the Al Montazah Park is a city recreational area.
Below: The Qait Bey Citadel is one of the city’s symbols.
It is a lot of fun to enjoy the Mediterranean on the beaches of the city’s modern and comfortable hotels.
HOW TO GET THERE
Turkish Airlines has return flights to and from Alexandria on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
WHERE TO STAY
There are various accommodation alternatives at the city center, suitable for every budget. Montazah district is famous with its luxury 5 star hotels. For long term stays, it is advisable to rent a furnished apartment at Sidi Gaber.
WHAT TO EAT
You can taste the fresh and abundant seafood of Mediterranean as well as local dishes like ful, falafel and kusheri. Don’t forget to try sugar cane juice and other fresh fruit juices.