Exploring Egypt - Day 10
Our second day in Alexandria started with one of the most famous sights located in this city – the Library of Alexandria. Interestingly the current library is a very modern building. The first library was founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals named Ptolemy I back in 283 BC. Since Alexandria was the main port there were international ships coming from all different countries so the rulers took it upon themselves to “request” books from the ships that would come in and they would either keep them or sometimes copy them to put in their centralized knowledge centre. The museum was a place for studying and over 100 scholars lived there to write, lecture, research or translate and copy documents. It has been estimated that at one time there were over a half million documents within the premises. There are several stories that have been recounted about the fire that ultimately destroyed the library but one of the more popular, points the finger at Julius Caesar. In 48 BC Caesar was cut off by an Egyptian fleet at Alexandria and in retaliation ordered the ships in the harbor to burned. Unfortunately as a result the fires also spread onto land and eventually burned the library to nothing taking with it ancient history, literature and learning.
The existing building wasn’t completed until 2002 even though reviving the library was originally proposed in the early 1970’s. Now the beautiful and modern building is a library, a cultural centre and even houses a school for training professional staff to work in libraries in Egypt and the Middle East. The inside is absolutely stunning with multiple levels and slanted huge windows from floor to ceiling on one side. You can find books by authors from all over the world – we even located the Canadian authors section.
The library houses both permanent and guest exhibits and collections on a variety of topics and interests. Some are included with your admission and others are at an additional cost. The facility houses many research centres and there is cutting edge technology at this site as well. One example is a table that show the human body and all it’s inner workings for medical students to use. And during our tour we were informed that you can access millions of complimentary books from their online archive just by registering for a membership. They believe in sharing all their resources and a large project is ongoing to place all their materials online. This is not your average library – it is an incredible site to see and really must be toured with their guides.
We spent a couple of hours exploring the library and then we were off to visit the Roman Amphitheatre located in the centre of Alexandria. This amphitheatre dates back to the 2nd century and was found by some workers sent to clean up the area during the 1960’s. The amphitheatre has a diameter of 33 metres and consists of 13 rows made from European white marble however the columns were made from granite that was transported from Aswan. Unfortunately, during one of the major earthquakes in the area much of the amphitheatre was damaged. Based on the size of the structure it is suggested that it was built for meetings of important figures and officials and likely not for theatre or concerts. For it’s age and the fact that it was covered by sand and gravel for so long, it is in really great shape and is the only one of it’s kind in Egypt.
After wandering around the Roman structure, we drove around the city taking in the sites, sounds and smells of this vibrant city. The bustling markets, the stunning architecture, the mobile tea carts, the friendly people are all what contribute to this amazing city. We loved everything about it and will definitely be back.
Our touring was topped off with a massive lunch at a BBQ restaurant and then it was time to head back to Cairo. The drive seemed shorter on the way back to the airport where we dropped off Karen and Geoff at their hotel for the night. We had a later flight to take us on to Hurghada for a few days of rest and relaxation.
We had a quick hour-long flight, we were picked up by our driver at the airport and whisked off to our seaside resort. It had been a long but certainly enjoyable day.
Continue to Day 11 - click here.
Exploring Egypt - Day 9
Our first day in Alexandria started with a wonderful breakfast on the outside roof patio at our hotel. The beautiful breeze from the sea was very welcome after having spent the rest of our trip in the desert regions. Alexandria overall has a Mediterranean feel and was much cooler in temperature. We were very excited to explore this beautiful city.
Our first stop was at the catacombs located in the middle of the city. Upon arrival at the site you have no idea what actually lies underground. After a quick look at the artifacts spread around the entrance, we listened as our guide wove the tale of this fascinating site. This massive burial site was found accidentally in 1900 when a cart accidentally fell into a pit and magically led to the discovery under the ground. The underground tunnels date back to the Greco Roman period and at the time of the 2ndcentury was dug down 35 metres (115 feet) and consisted of three levels. It was likely originally a private tomb but over the years was later converted to a public cemetery and could accommodate more than 300 corpses. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures underground.
We entered via a spiral staircase that brings you down into a large area with benches and we were told by our guide that many people would come first to have a burial feast, then again 40 days later and then annually on the death anniversary. There are several burial chambers each holding a sarcophagus. There are also many shelves built into the rock that house coffins. The carvings and symbols inside are in several different styles including Greco-Roman, ancient Egyptian and Pharaonic. After exploring a few of the passageways and learning about the different symbols inside we surfaced to the top and started on our way to our next stop.
The Citadel of Qaitbay is a stunning fortress built on the sea dating back to the 15th century. It is built upon the site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, the lighthouse was destroyed over the years due to several earthquakes. The original building constructed on this spot in the 14th century was destroyed in the 1800’s and the existing building was rebuilt around the turn of the 20th century. Many of the stones and columns came from the original tower that was there originally. Inside is a mosque and naval museum. There are some lovely mosaics on the floor but inside there is not a lot to see. The outside views however are spectacular. We walked around the entire structure including climbing up to the top to see the sea. It was incredible and we could have hung out there all day!
We then stopped for lunch at a wonderful restaurant on the water and had a fantastic fish lunch. It was so fresh and super tasty. A fantastic way to spend an hour enjoying the breeze and a stunning view. And we also then stopped at the Starbucks on the main street – and you wouldn’t know that you were in Egypt. It is one of the most consistent brands I have seen everywhere across the world.
Our last stop for the day was the El-Montazza. Located here is a beautiful palace that was built in the late 1800’s but is not open to the public. You can wander the well-maintained gardens in the park that surround the palace. We also walked out to the end of a breakwater where we could enjoy the waves crashing in front of us. The views in Alexandria are really very beautiful and it was so very nice to be by the water.
After returning to the hotel we had a rest and then headed up to the roof patio to have drinks and dinner. It was a wonderful evening – our last with Karen and Geoff. It was an evening of singing, dancing and wonderful company. Such a fantastic end to the day.
Continue to Day 10 - click here.
Exploring Egypt - Day 8
After a busy day in Aswan, it was time to check out from our Nile cruise and move on to the next city. But first our day started with a very early morning so we could drive to Abu Simbel. The drive took approximately 3 ½ hours and was through nothing but flat, dry desert. The village is located on the western side of Lake Nasser near the border with Sudan. Suffice to say there was absolutely nothing to be seen during the 300 kms except one very small road side stop called the Oasis - aptly named. For this drive we had two drivers in case something was to happen to the first since there is nowhere to stop for assistance. Now that I have experienced this drive I definitely recommend to clients that they take the quick flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel. Our guide spoke to us as we approached the temples and let us know about why this site is one of the most fascinating in Egypt.
The Abu Simbel temples are an UNESCO World Heritage Site and are part of the collection of temples known as the Nubian Monuments. They date back to the 13th century and were commissioned by Ramses II. The massive temples were built to commemorate Ramses’ victory at the Battle of Kadesh and are basically a tribute to himself and his Queen – Nefertari.
There are two temples on the site – the Grand Temple and the Small Temple. Both are incredible to see. As the names imply the Grand Temple is larger and took almost 20 years to build. All four of the large statues on the outside are huge depictions of Ramses himself – reaching 20m (66 feet) in height. Around his legs are smaller statues of his wife, mother and daughters. The interior is amazing with a triangular layout and each room decreasing in size until you get to the sanctuary. The hall has massive columns and carvings on the walls that show battle scenes. Once inside the sanctuary you can see four statues cut into the wall – Ramses and three gods. An interesting fact is regarding the position of the axis of the temple that allows twice a year - in October and February the rays of the sun to come through the sanctuary and illuminate all but one of the statues – the god of darkness. Check out my video below that is filmed from outside the temple and also from within the sanctuary.
The columns and carvings are in impeccable shape and this is even more amazing once you understand that the temples were actually abandoned and over time became covered by sand. They were eventually discovered by a Swiss orientalist who after many attempts was able to have the temples dug out and successfully entered inside. In the late 1950’s the Aswan High Dam was being constructed and it was apparent that many of the Nubian monuments were in danger due to the rising waters of the Nile. It was publicized that relics from this ancient human civilization were under threat and international donations were collected to fund a solution. It became clear that the temples would need to be moved. During 1964 to 1968 the entire site was dismantled, lifted and moved to a new location 65m higher and 200m back from the river. The blocks weighed an average of 20 tons and were painstakingly moved and reassembled in the new location. It is really hard to believe that such a challenge was even able to be completed.
The Small Temple is not really small – since the statues out front are still 10m (33 feet) tall. These are of Ramses and his wife Queen Nefertari. And interestingly they are the same height which was unusual since Ramses typically made statues depicting himself larger than any other. The inside has pillars and drawings depicting the queen, Ramses and many different gods.
After wandering both the temples for a couple of hours, we had an interesting exchange with a security guard who asked if we would like to hold his machine gun for pictures! We politely declined but to make sure we didn’t insult him we did take a photo with him and also gave him a gratuity so he remained content. Our guide then took us to a lovely spot for lunch where we enjoyed the coolness of the inside seating.
Our lunch was delightful and just what we needed before the long ride back to Aswan where we would catch a flight to Cairo. This was going to make for a very long day with tons of driving since upon arrival in Cairo we were picked up and our driver took us onward to Alexandria. I must say that it was a very quiet ride since we were all very tired and mostly slept along the way. We arrived into Alexandria at 1:00am which was still very much awake due to Ramadan festivities. We fell into bed at the Alexandria Windsor Palace Hotel looking forward to exploring Alexandria the next day.
Continue to Day 9 - click here.
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