Saturday, January 15, 2011

Discovering Alexandria

Welcome to our hotel in Alexandria, Egypt!  Note the
Mediterranean is just across the street!

Dr. Ammann is happy to be here!
Alexandria stretches some 12 miles along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.   Founded in 332 BC by Alexander the Great, the city was at one time a rival of Rome - after all, it was Alexander's passion that built the city and he was so pleased with what he saw that he gave the city his name.  (What a guy, eh?)   Today, the city is Egypt's second largest, and perhaps not as cosmopolitan as it has been in other periods, but a fun place to be nevertheless. 

Our hotel, the Sofitel Alex Cecil Hotel is a landmark - built in 1929 and a student favorite.   We sit right on the Mediterranean and our rooms are lovely as can be.   Many of them have balconies that open onto the Sea itself.........and it was those lucky people who had the hardest time sleeping last night.  Why, you ask?   It might have had something to do with the incessant traffic that is accompanied by beeping horns until the very early hours of the morning.........or, was it the rain and windstorm that began in the afternoon and really roared up at about 4:15 a.m.?   These windows have shudders, and if not closed properly, they BANGED against the windows and the hotel walls as if you were in some kind of horror movie.  Pretty funny when we talked about it at breakfast, but at 4:15 a.m., well, you can imagine!  That was some storm!!!

These street scenes were among those we saw on our way to our first stop of the day, the Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa.     This complex is the largest Greco-Roman necropolis (or burial ground) in Egypt and is dug into the rock about 115 feet.

These were discovered by a donkey, actually, who fell into a hole while heading down the street with his master some years ago.  Excavation showed three levels of tombs that one now reaches by using a spiral staircase down which the dead bodies were lowered (in those days, of course!)
 We sat in the large banquet hall (underground) which is where relatives of the deceased would sit and remember their relatives - and not just once, but on every birthday, date of death or holiday.  Familes would bring food and drink to this area, sometimes spending several days with their dead.

Dare I say that the fresh air, blue sky and bright sunshine was a welcome relief after visiting the Catacombs?  :-)
 Our next stop was Pompey's Pillar, made of red Aswan granite and some 89 feet tall.   This was erected in 297AD as a tribute to a Roman Emperor - the one that the Egyptians felt was the most just of emperors, and the divine protectorate of Alexandria.   He evidently saved thousands of Alexandrians from starvation during some particularly difficult years of occupation by the Romans.

Around the area can be found ruins of a once mighty temple which stood near the Pillar.  We had the chance to wander the area for a bit and enjoyed the fascinating relics which are strewn about.

Our next stop was for lunch at a restaurant facing the Sea named Portofino.   Seafood is very popular here, and this restaurant is supposed to be among the best.   I heard various reports from the 90 of us present........some loved it, some tolerated it, and some thought it was pretty awful.  Just like home!  HA!

Follwing lunch, we headed to the world famous Alexandria Library.   The original library was burned down (by accident) by Julius Caesar himself while visiting Cleopatra (it had been built in the 3rd century BC and was known as one of the "Wonders of the Ancient World."  (RETRACTION:   I learned late last night that I didn't listen carefully enough.....Julias Ceasar was actually in a sea battle with the King of the Egyptians in the harbor at Alexandria.......the battle caused a fire which consumed the library.....Cleopatra was furious that Ceasar had done this and blamed him completely........and the rest is history.   Sorry I messed this part up!) The new library was opened in 2002, and was designed and built by Norwegian architects.   Nations from the world over assisted in paying the 250 million dollar bill.   It's a beautiful place, and we had a tour and some free time there.   Among the many interesting displays are an area dedicated to former President Anwar Sadat.  The clothing worn at his assassination is on disply, and you can really tell that the Egyptian people miss this man of peace.

Just standin' around, waiting to get in the Library!
The main reading room at the Library
Our final stop of the day was at the Montazah Palace, built by deposed King Farouk of Egypt.  He was the last King of Egypt and driven from the country in 1952.   Today, the palace is used by the President of the country as a guest house or official meeting place.   It faces the Mediterranean and, as you can tell, makes an impressive statement! 

Keeping in mind that "back home" we are having balmy temperatures (!) and lots of snow, the Band certainly enjoyed having a few moments to stand by (and take lots and lots and lots of pictures of) the sea.

Who needs Sioux Falls when you've got the Mediterranean?

The bridge is made of palm trees by the way..........

All good things must come to and end, and so did our day.   Ole was tired, but he knew that the only thing on his agenda for tonight was a good night's sleep.   Hello, USA!  We're heading to bed soon....see you tomorrow!


  1. Looks like everyone is enjoying the trip. Wow-what an experience! Best wishes for your next concert and the rest of your travels in Egypt.

  2. Yea! Looks like all are having a great time, and I am so glad you made it to the Alexandria Library.

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