Published: July 31st 2010July 27th 2010
After a breakfast at the rooftop restaurant overlooking the sunny city, we headed off to explore the famous Biblioteca Alexandrine. It is believed that the new Alexandria library is on the site of the original ancient library (by the same name). It was the center of knowledge and learning of the ancient world and it housed a million papyrus scrolls with knowledge of the time. It was built in approximately 200BC (I need to check my dates on this) and only survived about 400 years when it burned down. Only one papyrus scroll survived the fire and is now housed in a museum in Vienna. The new library was built on the same site and finished in 2002. It's designed in the shape of a sun disk, representing the sun rising on the Mediterranean as the dawn and rise of new knowledge that has no end. We started exploring the library with a 30min English tour to orient ourselves. They showed us hoe the windows were designed to let in natural light but in a way so that the glare from the sun would never distract the readers. The windows were of eyelid shape (can't remember what that means) but they used the colours blue and green to signify the colour of the ocean and of the earth. Outside the library is a wall that has nonsense words in many languages to signify that this is a cooperative project to house the worlds knowledge (and many countries donated their money to this effort).
The library is a pretty impressive complex; it currently houses 550,000 books but has the capacity to hold 8 million. In addition to the library part, there are endless numbers of exhibition rooms which currently hold exhibitions of art, there is the museum of antiquities, the museum of ancient manuscripts (which houses an exact copy of the saved ancient papyrus scroll), a museum dedicated to a former president of egypt, a museum of ancient science (or aomething like that, and I really regret not going to this one because many scientific discoveries were made by ancient Egyptians) and many other museums. It's a lot bigger than we expected and it would take at least 4 hours to go through it all. We went to a few of exhibits really quickly but There was one exhibit that I found really interesting. It was a collection of old photos (from the late 1800s and mid 1900s) and maps (from the middle ages) of Alexandria. I really liked the photos because they showed a different Alexandria than we see today. It was striking how much Alexandria was such a metropolitan city. You can see in the architecture that the Europeans were here at some point, but that they were long gone. There's a real colonial air to the city and these photos demonstrate why. One picture really shocked me; it quoted that Alexandria was such a clean city that one could eat off the sidewalk. This is certainly not the case now. The ancient city itself was left in ruins for centuries and it wasn't until the 18th century when it was easily conquered by napoleon (there was nothing there) that an influx of european foreigners occurred and the city was revitalized (in colonial style). It was in the mid 1950s that Alexandria began to decline again and the forigbers went home leaving behind beautiful buildings and the corniche hay they built. It's such a shame because this city really could be beautiful, but now it's so neglected. Anyways my point was that these photos really highlighted the Alexandria that I had imagined and all of it's potential. Maybe someday it will be back.
Another project going on at the biblioteca is this massive Internet project. Every 10 days this massive computer takes a snapshot of all the web pages that exist and houses them in this big massive hard drive. Its pretty impressive, but also scary that they have archived all your web pages wahahaha.
We spent a few hours in the library then we decided to walk a bit more around the city. So we started off in one direction and kept walking. We walked by the European cemeteries and we walked through a couple of parks that were not as well kept as they should be. In these parks we walked though we found what we thought were remnants of the old city gates (as well as other ruins looking things), but they were boy labelled anywhere and our guidebooks certainly didn't talk about it. Then we caught a taxi (the taxis here are very abundant and they are so tiny) to the Montaza Palace Gardens.
We had originally thought we could go into visit the palace but its currently bring used as a state guesthouse. The gardens in themselves were really nice to visit. Montazah palace is quite some ways down the corniche from downtown. The palace was originally built by Mohammad Ali (not the boxer) for the engineers who built the barges that were important for the irrigation of the delta. Later king Farouk lived in it. The grounds cover 160ha and are open to the public (for a fee- as usual the tourists pay a different price than the locals). Inside is a lot of park area lined with palm trees, there are even some hotels and towards the back lots of beaches. It appears that this is a very popular place for people to bring their families and hang out for the day. The beaches definitely illustrate this; I don't think I've ever seen so many people at the beach or even in the water! It was just so crowded with hundreds of umbrellas on the beach (no one sat in the sun) and hundreds of people in the water. Women were swimming in burkas or at least head scarves and even most men were covered up. It was mostly men in the water and no foreigners whatsoever. We walked around these beaches and observed them having fun and then walked around the park a bit more and then took a taxi back to the hotel. Surprisingly they had a mcdonalds in the park, a very popular place. We had to stop in there because it was the only place in the park that we were willing to risk getting a drink from. Mcdonalds in the middle east sell special sandwiches for the area called mcarabia (grilled chicken or kofta)- just for those who are interested in the worldwide menu of mcdonalds.
After the park we rent back to the hotel and tried to find a restaurant that we hoped would not make us sick, and as there isn't really any special Egyptian cuisine that we could have enjoyed on our last night in Egypt (other than koshari which doesn't seem to be popular in alex), we went for Thai food on the top of another building over looking the water and city. Tomorrow we begin the journey to Cyprus, our final destination on this trip.