Egypt’s second city was once the first choice of foreign visitors to the country, its raffish port charm and Mediterranean sophistication giving it a worldly air, now a little faded. From the great arc of the seaside Corniche to tiny back lanes, Alexandria reveals itself most readily to the unhurried pedestrian. To give your wanderings some focus, here are five recommended sights, ancient and modern.
Hidden for centuries by a cemetery, this major archaeological find was only excavated in 1959. You can still see well-preserved marble seating and traces of mosaics, but for even more impressive tile work, visit the adjacent remnants of the Villa of the Birds.
Catacombs of Kom el-Shouqafa
More ancient marvels in this underground Roman cemetery carved out of rock, where Roman and Greek motifs blend with older Pharaonic elements. Nearby Pompey’s Pillar is an elegant 25 meters of red granite.
The 15th century Fort Qaitbey in evocative cream-colored stone enjoys a prominent position on a spit of land jutting out to sea. While impressive, it would have been dwarfed by the point’s original: Pharos, the colossal lighthouse which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Alexandria National Museum
Many of the city’s artistic treasures have ended up in this elegant early 20th century mansion. The eras advance the higher you go – start on the ground floor for Dynastic Egypt, ascend to the Greco-Roman era before finally viewing Coptic and Islamic works.
Egypt’s most ambitious 21st century building looks forward and backwards at the same time. Under its vast disc are centuries of bibliographical treasures in high-tech displays, and it occupies the same site (more or less) as the original repository of ancient learning that was the Library of Alexandria.