We took the desert road to Alexandria early this morning. Tim felt up for the day, so we moved forward with our plans. The trip to Alexandria in the northern part of Egypt is about three hours, so we had some rest time on the front and back end of our time in the city. This city on the edge of the Mediterranean was named for Alexander the Great. Though Alexander died of malaria before he reached his mid-thirties, he achieved quite a lot, including establishing this important city. Talk about making me wonder what I’ve done with my life! He got crackin’ for sure!
Our first stop in Alexandria was the National Museum of Alexandria. Here we saw many artifacts from the time of Alexander and the Greco-Roman period of Alexandria’s history. The museum also had further artifacts from the pharaonic period. No photographs allowed (a recurring theme), so nothing for you to feast your eyes upon. 😦
Next stop was the catacombs dated back to around 200 BC, but only discovered in 1900 when a donkey fell into one of the shafts. There were no human bones discovered in the catacombs, which has led to much speculation about what happened. The structure had enough space for hundreds of bodies, and extra care was taken in crafting a banquet hall for grieving families and several floors of tombs. Archaeologists are sure that these catacombs were built by Romans, but there was plenty of Egyptian influence visible.
Next, we visited Pompey’s Pillar at the site of what was once home to three temples for the three main gods of Alexandria, which were a combination of Roman and Egyptian gods. In 390 AD, the invading Christians ordered the demolition of these pagan temples, and all that remains is a single column and lots of debris. The two Sphinx statues were brought at a later date from Cairo just for the enjoyment of tourists. We were at this spot during the noon call to prayer, so we were at a perfect location to hear multiple calls coming from many mosques in the area.
Our next stop was the Alexandria library, the main inspiration for our visit. Though the ancient library was burned by an invading Julius Caesar (apparently by accident), there was a revival of the library beginning in the 20th century, and the library today has over one million books, with room for eight million! It also has one of the largest Internet archives in the world. While the library is 200 meters west of the original library and was completed in 2002, they sought to give a nod to the ancient library in design elements, including small niches in the wall that not only reduce echo of sound, but are also reminiscent of the niches used to store scrolls in the ancient library. While we were in the library, we toured their rare book collection, a highlight for an old book collector! Tim was patient and allowed me to drool for a while. 🙂 The oldest manuscript in their collection was transcribed in 978 AD, and their oldest rare book was printed in Italy in 1482. Most of the texts were in Arabic and were beautiful. Too bad I couldn’t bring any home with me!
After the library, we had lunch at a port-side restaurant on the edge of the Mediterranean, and in view of the site of one of the former wonders of the world, the lighthouse of Alexandria. The lighthouse was destroyed a long time ago by an earthquake, but we could still see where it once stood.
Lunch over, the guide told us that our final stop on the day’s tour would add at least an additional two hours to our journey time, and she strongly suggested we head back to Cairo. Egyptian Muslims are celebrating a feast in honor of Abraham, and the roads were going to be packed with people traveling to be with family. Because we have to be ready to leave for the airport at 3:30 in the morning, we agreed to skip the gardens and palace in Alexandria. I was bummed because it had sounded so lovely in the description, but I also knew getting no sleep before 24 hours straight of travel was a bad plan.
We got back into Giza around 6:00, so there was still enough light to see the pyramids. We went out to the pool area and sat for a while in the lounge chairs looking at them and talking about our trip. What an adventure it has been, but we both agreed one of our favorite parts of the whole trip was just getting to spend uninterrupted time together seeing new things (I know, gag, gag, gag! but it’s true!). Tim said it felt like the trip went by in a blink, and yet our time in Athens feels like months ago. We are actually ready to come home, sleep in our own bed, and see our “Bubby Boo-Boo.” (Tim has been pining for him for days… I think if he were on this trip with us, Tim wouldn’t be half as eager to go home. haha!)
Now comes the packing up and organizing ourselves for the long trip tomorrow. We’ll see gay Paris from the windows of the airport tomorrow before we touchdown again in the good ol’ US of A.