Alexandria’s history dates back to its founding in 331 BC, by Alexander the Great, when he decided that the Egyptian port of Rhacotis would be a natural base for future operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Located close to the Nile Delta, and well placed for trade and warfare in the Middle East. Alexander built a new extension to the port of Rhacotis, and renamed the town and port after himself; Alexandria.
Alexander designed the layout of Alexandria, marking the position of the market square, temples, library, museums and royal palaces. However, he would not live long enough to see the early construction come to be, for he died in 323 BC.
Alexander’s General; Ptolemy brought his body back to Alexandria.
In the hot scorching summer of 321 BC, the glittering procession inched its way, like a great golden caterpillar, slowly travelling westwards from Babylon. At each city along the route, crowds gathered to stare in awe, to pay homage. Never had there been such a magnificent display: the golden carriage with its garlanded columns, a Greek temple on wheels, an elegant train of sixty-four mules yoked four abreast, halters ringing as they walked; the regiments from Persia, and Macedonia marching in solemn grief and honour; and beneath the temple portico, canopied in purple, fragrant with spices, the coffin of hammered gold. For the Emperor was dead, Alexander the Great he who had conquered Egypt and Asia, supreme hero and lord to half the known world, cut down by a fever at the age of thirty-three. Now his body being transported home for burial.
Alexander had been born in Macedonia, a primitive Greek state north west of the Aegean. Egypt worshipped him as a God. His upbringing had been Greek in his eyes. The final seat of his empire was Babylon, where his body had laid in state for some twenty-four months.
Ptolemy, boyhood friend of Alexander, marched an army to Syria, where they awaited the cortege, intent on paying homage to Alexander. Ptolemy seized control of the cortege, and turned the procession, this gleaming carriage and golden coffin towards Egypt.
A tomb of dazzling splendour glistened in the mid-day sun, as it took shape in Alexandria, the city the Emperor had raised on the Nile Delta and there his body would remain for countless centuries, attended by priests and worshipped by pilgrims.
Under Ptolemy, Alexandria’s successor in Egypt, a new city was born with Alexandria becoming the seat of the Ptolemaic’s kingdom, and so it grew in size, becoming one of the greatest cities of the Hellenistic world. It began its path, a transformation into a city of learning.
One of Alexandria’s earliest buildings to be constructed was the lighthouse, on the small island of Pharos, close to the harbour entrance of Alexandria.
The lighthouse, built in three levels rose some 300 plus feet and crowned with the statue of Zeus. During the Islamic period, the third tier was replaced by a Mosque.
Around 1200 AD, a mosaic depicting the lighthouse was constructed in the Chapel of St.Zeno in St.Mark’s Venice.
The lighthouse worked by means of a fire at its base, and reflected by mirrors from the top, seen by many a mariner far out to sea.
Alexandria’s famous library was started by Ptolemy I and completed by his successor Ptolemy II, he whose name will be remembered in writing to other rulers, asking them to donate books to Alexandria’s library. The library grew in size with collections of Egyptian and Greek literature, ancient religions and some 70,000 papyrus scrolls.
Ships entering Alexandria’s harbour were searched and books were seized and taken to the library. The decision would be made whether to confiscate, replace with a copy or return to said owner.
The Ptolemies projected their city as the home of Greek culture and the centre of scientific research, which led to the construction of Alexandria’s Museum, which was much like a university in stature.
Great scholars were offered the chance to study in Alexandria, the like of:
Eratosthenes, who calculated the circumference of planet Earth within fifty miles, and went on to map and catalogue some 700 stars.
Aristarchus, who promoted the idea that Earth turned on its own axis, as it moved round the sun at the same time.
Third century BC surgeons; Herophilus and Erasistratus scientific studies discovered much about the workings of human anatomy. They acquired their information via human vivisection, and their patients were convicted criminals. Celsus a Roman writer of medical history justified their actions in the use of criminals for medical exploration. These criminals died, that future illnesses could be resolved, they died that many would live.
Ctesibius the scientist invented the Organ, which worked by pushing air through pipes using a hand-operated pump. Each pipe would be played by pressing a note upon a board. This would be the beginning of the keyboard.
It was here that the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, for the Jews of Alexandria.
On the 15th March 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated by Senators in the portico of the Basilica of Pompey the Great. His assassins were Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus along with sixty conspirators. Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times, dying at the base of Pompey’s statue.
Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) became Cleopatra’s consort and lover, and they left Rome for Alexandria. The city became their base of operations for the next thirteen years, until Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian Caesar at the “Battle of Actium in 31 BC.
In the year 30 BC Cleopatra and Mark Antony took their own lives. With Cleopatra’s death, the Ptolemaic line came to an end.
Octavian became Rome’s first emperor, taking the title; “Emperor Augustus” and the city of Alexandria became part of the Roman Empire, ruled by Augustus Caesar.
The city of Alexandria was destroyed in the “Kitos War” of 115 AD, and restored by Emperor Hadrian, a man of learning (117-138AD). The Greek translation of the Bible, composed in the city of Alexandria was completed in 132 AD, to take its place amongst the great books in the cities library.
Religious scholars frequented the library for research. Alexandria attracted many faiths.
During the reign of Emperor Augustus Christianity grew in popularity, whilst many disputes took place between Jews and Pagans.
Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (272-337AD) passed the “Edict of Milan” in 313Ad, calling for religious tolerance. Under this new law Christians were no longer liable for prosecution.
Alexandria a former city of prosperity and learning, became the arena of religious contention between Christian faith and the old pagans. Very quickly, Christian’s spoke out and struck against the symbols of the old faith, with the intent on toppling it.
Nowhere more than in Alexandria, were these changes more apparent. For under the reign of Emperor Theodosius I, paganism was outlawed and Christianity was encouraged.
In 391 AD the Christian Patriarch Theophilus ordered that all the pagan temples in Alexandria were to be destroyed, or alternatively converted into churches.
Come 400 AD Alexandria had reached a point where it was in constant religious turmoil. In 415 AD the Neo-Platonic Philosopher; Hypatia was murdered. Around this time Alexandria’s Great library was destroyed by fire and the temple of Serapis was also destroyed.
The city of Alexandria became a battlefield for warring faiths. Then conquered by Sassanid Persians in 619, then Christian Byzantine Empire led by Heraclius claimed the city in 628, and lost it in 641 to Arab forces under Caliph Umar.
In 645 the city was captured by a Byzantine fleet, and lost in 646. The 975 years of Greco-Roman control had reached its conclusion.
Alexandria came under the control of the pirates of Andalusia (814-827), and later the city would fall into Arab hands.
In the year 828 it was claimed that the body of Mark the Evangelist was stolen by Venetian merchants which led to the Basilica of Saint Mark.
In the years 956-1303-1323, Alexandria suffered at the hands of Earthquakes, which almost destroyed the city.
The city of Alexandria became a forgotten city of the east, until it emerged during the years of the Crusades, and flourished through trade. In the year 1365, Alexandria was sacked, after suffering at the hands of Crusaders, led by King Peter of Cyprus.
Alexandria fell into decline and by the latter part of the Ottoman period, it had been reduced to a small fishing village.
In 1798 Alexandria was captured by the French army under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte and soon after captured by the British, who held onto it for 150 years.
What was not destroyed by war, nature played its part, destruction by earthquakes as the Port of Alexandria and the lighthouse was lost…