Basia Zarzycka Minerva Memories – Alexandria


This will be the last Minerva memory for four weeks as I am about to join the ship again tomorrow in Venice. I will try to post but it will be at the whim of local Wi-Fi connections. Meanwhile Alexandria.


Alexander the Great founded it. Queen Cleopatra lorded over it. Alexandria’s birth and early history is a calling card of famous names. This was the Mediterranean’s dazzling jewel of a city; home to the Great Library of Alexandria and the colossal Pharos Lighthouse – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.


In more recent times, from the late 19th century up until the 1950s, Alexandria was something of a bohemian bad boy, with a glittering cast of writers, poets, and artists who made the city their home. More than any other large city in Egypt, Alexandria has a romantic days-gone-by atmosphere that can’t be beaten and that history lovers shouldn’t miss.


Walk the long shorefront Corniche road heading west, and you’ll finally arrive at Fort Qaitbey. It may be a poor substitute for what was once the site of the mighty Pharos Lighthouse – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – but this squat and dinky fort has been standing guard over Alexandria’s eastern harbour since 1480.


The Pharos itself said adieu to Alexandria in 1303 when it was toppled by a violent earthquake. Fort Qaitbey was built by Mamluke Sultan Qaitbey in an effort to fortify this important Egyptian port from attack, and rubble from the toppled lighthouse was used in its construction. Inside, you can explore the series of stone-walled chambers and climb up to the roof to look out over the Mediterranean.


Two hours drive away is the hardscrabble township of El Alamein. It holds a fascinating place in modern world history. It was across this parched piece of nondescript desert that the Allies first decisive victory in World War II’s North Africa campaign was won.


The bloody battles that took place here in October 1942 killed or wounded more than 80,000 soldiers from countries as varied as Australia, New Zealand, India, and Great Britain (Allies) as well as Germany and Italy (Axis Forces). Today, the war memorials that stand are a poignant reminder of the 13 days of fighting that claimed so many lives.


The rather excellent El Alamein War Museum does a good job of giving an overview to the El Alamein campaign with plenty of military memorabilia displayed. The Commonwealth Cemetery is a beautifully-kept tribute to the fallen with the 7,000 tombstones in regimented rows between well-tended desert plants.


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About Basia Zarzycka