If you joined us here last week, I wrote about my recent trip to Egypt, starting with the Great Pyramid and the Giza Complex. There was way too much to tell in one blog, so get ready for Part Deux: The Egyptian Museum and Alexandria! If you missed Part 1, you can read it HERE.
Since I’ve already talked about the pyramids, I wanted to focus on the museums we visited this week. Both Cairo and Alexandria are FULL of amazing museums.
You absolutely don’t want to miss The Egyptian Museum – it has the most extensive collection of Pharaonic antiquities in the world! For generations, the Egyptian Museum was the place to see these artifacts. However, the brand new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) will soon replace it (Conde Nast Traveler has an article HERE). When I was there recently, many artifacts were boxed up in crates, preparing for transit to the new museum. Visitors can soon visit the GEM and walk to the Giza pyramid complex from the museum – how convenient! There you will see treasures from King Tutankhamun as well as a Replica of Rosetta Stone (the original is in the British Museum – go figure). Construction began in 2012, with a grand opening expected sometime before the end of 2021. When it opens, the GEM will be the most significant archaeological museum in the world, housing artifacts of ancient Egypt, including the entire Tutankhamun collection, and many pieces will be on display for the first time.
The Mediterranean port city of Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt. It is about a 3-hour drive from Cairo and is well worth the trip. Alexandria has a rich Roman history and a stunning location filled with Greco-Roman landmarks, old-world cafes, and sandy beaches. Alexandria is named after Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great, who traveled to Egypt in 332 B.C. It is in Alexandria that we saw the meshing of Greek and Roman culture with Egyptian culture.
During the Hellenistic period, Alexandria was home to a lighthouse (known as Pharos of Alexandria) – among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – as well as a famous library. Today the library has been reimagined in the disc-shaped, ultramodern Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Nearby, the 15th-century seafront Qaitbay Citadel is now a museum.
History of Alexandria
In addition to Alexander the Great, the city is also associated with Queen Cleopatra. But, try as we might, we never found any references to her anywhere we went (we searched, though)! Cleopatra was the last Pharaoh and ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.
Alexandria Museums and Famous Sites
There are several museums located here, but the most prominent is the National Museum of Alexandria. This extraordinary museum showcases the diverse history of the region, from the pharaohs through the 19th century. The National Museum of Alexandria houses relics from the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms and monuments from the Greek and Roman periods.
Kom Al-Dikka is a site where a beautifully preserved Roman amphitheater theater is found. It was discovered while excavating the site of Paneion. The structure is mainly in well-preserved ruins remaining an excellent example of classical Roman architecture.
The Catacombs (Kom el Shuqafa)
Catacombs of Kom al-Shuqafa is in the middle of town – it’s weird to see it among high-rise buildings. Many believe it was a crypt for a wealthy family of nobles. A wayward donkey discovered the Roman catacombs here, and you can explore the temple complex and visit Pompey’s Pillar.
I’m especially fascinated by the Library of Alexandria! It existed long ago, for over 2,000 years, and housed the most important recordings of human history and research. Once the most comprehensive library in the world, the city lost its ‘symbol of knowledge’ when it was mysteriously destroyed by fire. However, the new Bibliotheca of Alexandrina was completed in 2002 to memorialize it.
Pro tip: have your guide purchase your tickets early. Many people arrive later in the day only to be disappointed (they sell out fast).
Pompey’s Pillar is a 100ft red Aswan granite column erected in honor of Emperor Diocletian in around 300 A.D. It is guarded by a giant statue of Serapis on the site of Alexandria’s acropolis known as Serapeum and is the largest freestanding Roman-style column ever built outside of Rome.
Another impressive historical site in Alexandria is Fort Qaitbay. The Fort was built in 1480 by Sultan Qaitbay using some of the remains of the lighthouse.
Montazah Palace and Royal Gardens
A visit to Alexandria must include the Montazah Palace. The palace’s Royal Gardens are now a magnificent nature preserve. Montazah palace gardens used to be a royal vacation home but are now used to escape the brutal heat of summer in Cairo.
This stylish structure, only a decade old, has become an iconic landmark, and locals and visitors alike love to stroll across to enjoy its beautiful views and incredible photo opportunities, especially for weddings.
The Street Markets
No visit to anywhere I go is complete without a walk through an authentic market. Alexandria’s didn’t disappoint! You can find anything from fresh fruits and vegetables and baked goods to clothing from street vendors. Speaking of food, I timed my visit to the Fish Market Restaurant perfectly as I stumbled upon a man making fresh pita bread – it was the best I’ve ever had (see video).
What does Luxor have to do with any of this? Not much – other than it was the one place I wanted to see most but had to miss due to several flight cancelations and delays in getting there. Why do I want to see it so badly? Luxor has the greatest concentration of pharaonic monuments anywhere in Egypt, including the great temple of Karnak (one of the most awe-inspiring pieces of architecture ever built), The Valley of the Kings, and the Luxor Temple.
You will be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t hire an Egyptologist as your private guide when you visit these historical areas. This trip was the most transformational that I’ve ever done, primarily due to our incredible guide! We learned so much more about these fantastic places and artifacts than if we had done it independently.
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