Lost Cities of Africa (4 of 5)
The famous city of Alexandria is built on the strip of land which separates the Mediterranean from Lake Mareotis and on a T-shaped peninsula which forms harbors both east and west. The stem of the “T” was originally a mole (breakwater), leading to the island of Pharos which formed the cross-piece. Founded personally by Alexander the Great in 331 BC when he took Egypt from the Persians, Alexandria was developed principally by the first two Ptolemies, who made it Egypt’s great port on the Mediterranean.
Location: Nile Delta, Egypt
Date Of Construction: 331 B.C.
Abandoned: Not Abandoned
Built By: Alexander The Great; Ptolemaic Pharaohs
Key Features: Lighthouse of Pharos; Museum and Royal Library; Serapeum; Soma (Tomb of Alexander and the Ptolemies); Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa
Known as the Pearl of the Mediterranean, Alexandria was one of the greatest and most remarkable cities in the world for a thousand years.
A late 19th-century conception of the Lighthouse of Pharos. In practice the Lighthouse probably had three tiers. The light itself wad said to be produced by a furnace at the top of the tower, and there were also fanciful reports of a giant mirror or lens that helped project the light, and which could be used as a weapon or to magnify distant objects. The Lighthouse was the last of the Seven Wonders, other than the pyramids, to remain standing. Although severely damaged in earthquakes in the 4th century CE, it was repaired and survived many more earthquakes in increasingly ruinous form. The lowest portion survives to this day as part of the Qait Bey Fort.
It was a place of contradictions – a city of great learning and fundamentalist bigotry; cosmopolitan in the extreme and intolerant in the extreme; the greatest Greek city in history, but Egyptian; home to a multitude of great buildings.
Alexandria included hundreds of palaces and temples and several Wonders of the World, the Lighthouse, the Great Library, Alexander’s Tomb and the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa.
Yet apparently barren of physical heritage; a huge, sprawling present-day metropolis, but a lost city in the truest sense.
City on the Edge
On Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, on a strip of land between Lake Mareotis and the sea, lies Egypt’s second city and its largest port, Alexandria.
The modern city bears few traces of the ancient metropolis that in its heyday was one of the largest cities in the world and arguably the greatest. It was founded by and named for Alexander the Great.
Having conquered Egypt and desirous of consolidating his power and reinforcing maritime and trade links between the Nile Valley and Greece and Asia, he chose one of the few suitable harbor sites on the Mediterranean coast, renowned enough for its natural advantages to be mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey.
Book Four records that, ‘Therein is a harbor with good anchorage, whence men launch the shapely ships into the sea…’ The island of Pharos just offshore shielded the coast, while it was far enough away from the mouths of the Nile to be free of silt.
A small Egyptian town called Rhakotis occupied part of the site, but in around 331 B.C. Alexander marked out the basic layout of a new city.
According to legend using grain when other materials were not available, such was his eagerness to get the project started , and employed the architect Dinocrates to elaborate.
The city was laid out in classical Greek style, with orthogonal streets (running at right angles to give a grid pattern) oriented to the shoreline and based around two main axes:
The Roman theatre, or Odeon, in Alexandria. The bottom tier of seats is granite, but the others are of white marble, probably imported from Italy.
– the east-west Canopus Street, running from the Moon Gate in the east to the Sun Gate in the west and the north-south Soma Street,
– running from Lake Mareotis to the shore, at a point where a causeway called the Heptastadion was built to link Pharos to the mainland and create a harbor on each side.
Alexander did not stay to see his city built, setting off for fresh adventures and conquests and dying in Babylon in 323 B.C. Africa and the prize kingdom of Egypt were ultimately seized by his general, Ptolemy, thus founding the Ptolemaic Dynasty that was to shape Alexandria.
In the power struggle that followed the great king’s death his corpse was a potent counter/bargaining chip and Ptolemy hijacked the lavish funeral cortege on its way back to Macedon, bringing Alexander’s body to Egypt where it was initially interred at Memphis.
According to legend Ptolemy was also motivated by an oracle that the land where Alexander was buried would become the richest kingdom in the world.
Later Alexander’s body was brought to Alexandria and placed in a tomb at the intersection of the two main streets, a location known as the Soma or Sema (meaning ‘the body’ in ancient Greek).
It became one of the great tourist attractions of the ancient world, drawing famous visitors such as Julius Caesar, Augustus (who allegedly broke the preserved corpse’s nose when he leant over it) and a succession of other Roman emperors.
A sphinx from Alexandria. Although they were Greek, the Ptolemies co-opted the motifs and symbols of ancient Egypt to legitimize their rule.
The location of the tomb remains a great unsolved mystery, although modern legend has it that it might be located beneath the Nebi Daniel Mosque; however, there is absolutely no real evidence for this idea.
As the capital of the Hellenistic rulers of Egypt, Alexandria had a unique character from the start.
It was Greek in design and many other aspects, with a mixed population of Greeks from across the Hellenistic world, Egyptians, Jews (probably the largest Jewish community in the world) and people of a hundred other nations, including, later in its history, Romans.
Its iconography, culture and religions were highly syncretic – for instance, statues in tombs are Egyptian in style but with Roman clothing and hair styles. There are many depictions of the Hellenistic Ptolemies in Egyptian idioms, such as sphinxes bearing their heads.
Ancient Egyptian statues, obelisks and other structures were brought to Alexandria from other sites, as with Tanis.
Yet for all this, Alexandria was emphatically not Egyptian. It was often described as Alexandria ad Aegyptum, meaning ‘Alexandria-adjoining-Egypt’, and in Roman times the local governor bore the title ‘Prefect of Alexandria and Egypt’.
Under Ptolemaic and later Roman patronage, Alexandria became the world’s greatest city. Its population swiftly grew to number in the hundreds of thousands (according to some estimates it later reached a million).
It was the epicenter of trade for the Mediterranean world, well situated to take advantages of the trade routes from the Red Sea and Arabia that linked the Greco-Roman world to the Persian, Indian and Chinese worlds.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World built on the island of Pharos. It was constructed early in the Ptolemaic period, in the 3rd century BC (between 285 and 247 BC). The building was designed by Sostratus and initiated by Satrap Ptolemy I of Egypt, Egypt’s first Hellenistic ruler. The building was completed during the reign of his son, Ptolemy II Philadelphos. The lighthouse was built originally as a daytime landmark only, later evolving into a functional lighthouse towards the Roman period. It was built of large light-colored stone with molten lead poured between to lock in the blocks from the pounding of the sea.
It had the world’s largest library and academic faculty, and its institutions (see below) attracted many of the world’s great scholars, including Euclid (of geometry fame), Eratosthenes (who calculated the circumference of the Earth) and Aristarchus (who posited a heliocentric solar system).
It was in Alexandria that the Old Testament was first translated into Greek, helping to fix its form thereafter, and where cults like those of Isis and Serapis (see below) were established, to spread later across much of the Classical world.
Highlights of Ancient Alexandria
Perhaps the most famous building in Alexandria was the Lighthouse, built on the eastern tip of the island of Pharos (although deposition on either side of the Heptastadion means that Pharos is now part of the mainland).
The Lighthouse was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a great tower over 328 feet tall, with a fire and a giant mirror at the top to help guide ships into port. The main port was the Great Harbor to the east, while to the west of the
Heptastadion was the Eunostos (‘safe return’) Harbor. The Great Harbor curved round in a semicircle; at its eastern lip a promontory called Cape Lochias was the location for the Ptolemaic palace complex, and around this the Bruchion, or Royal Quarter, where the Greek population was based, and which occupied the north eastern third of central Alexandria.
The Library of Alexandria was one of the best-known of the libraries of the ancient world. One of the interesting facts about the ancient world that seems to be missing from many history books is that there were many great collections of books and literature in ancient times and most were open to any scholar from anywhere in the world.
The library at Alexandria actually competed with that at Pergamum in amassing the most complete collection of books in the world. This went on in the 200’s B. C., and it is interesting to note that there were already so many works in existence that obtaining a copy of each would have been an impossible undertaking even then. The destruction of this priceless treasure was a stroke of the most unimaginable bad luck. If Byzantine Egypt had been taken by one of the later Islamic conquerors, this irreplaceable collection would have been counted amongst the finest of the spoils of war to fall into a victor’s hands.
Here were the most magnificent buildings, including the Museum, a temple to the Muses, which was a sort of ancient academy, hosting a permanent staff of scholars and scribes and attracting the famous names mentioned above.
Next to, or possibly inside, the Museum was the Royal Library, also known as the Great Library of Alexandria.
To the east of the Royal Quarter was the large Jewish quarter, which ruled itself as a semi-autonomous enclave. In the center of the harbor were the Navalia, or docks, and behind them the Emporium, or Exchange and the Apostases, or Magazines.
Also in this area were two temples – the Timonium, built by Mark Anthony, and the Caesarium – and two obelisks, later known as Cleopatra’s Needles and removed to London and New York.
Among the numerous other temples the most notable were temples to Isis and Serapis. Isis was a traditional Egyptian goddess redefined to a much wider role as a sort of Greco-Roman super-goddess.
While Serapis was a Ptolemaic invention, a combination of the Egyptian gods Osiris and Apis (the sacred bull god) designed specifically to give Alexandria a patron deity and provide the disparate Greek and Egyptian inhabitants with a common religious focus.
The Serapeum, the main temple in Alexandria, was sited on a rocky outcrop in the south of the city, with 100 steps leading up to it. Among other functions, it also served as an auxiliary or ‘daughter’ library to the main, or Royal Library.
West of the Serapeum was located one of Alexandria’s many cemeteries, now known as the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, a remarkable confluence of Egyptian custom and style with Greek and Roman influences. This part of town was the Rhakotis Quarter, where the Egyptians lived.
Decline and Fall
Under the Romans Alexandria became the second city in the empire, but it also became increasingly fractious and violent.
It was the most renowned and respected shrine in the Roman Empire, the object of veneration by Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Octavian, Caligula, Hadrian, Severus, Caracalla and a host of other luminaries. It stood for centuries within a sacred precinct the size of a large town at the heart of the greatest Greek city in the world.
Yet at the end of the 4th century AD, when the Christian emperor Theodosius outlawed paganism, it disappeared without trace, creating the greatest archaeological enigma of the ancient world.
What became of the tomb of Alexander the Great?
Does any part of it still survive?
Could this be it? Or…
Tensions between the city’s ethnic groups flared up regularly, with pogroms against the Jews, for instance, while Roman emperors such as Caracalla visited destruction and massacres on the city.
The ascendancy of Christianity, which made Alexandria into one of the leading centers of the early Church, simply added to the tensions, culminating in vicious anti-pagan rampages by the patriarch Theophilus in 391 C.E.
When Theophilus led a mob that razed the Serapeum, and his nephew Cyril, who was responsible for the death of the pagan mathematician and philosopher Hypatia in 412 CE.
Severe earthquakes also took their toll and the city was much diminished when conquered by the Arabs in 640 CE, although it was still magnificent enough for General Amr ibn al-As to report back to Caliph Omar that the city had ‘4,000 palaces, 4,000 baths and 400 theatres’.
Changes in trade routes and the establishment of a new capital by the Muslims caused Alexandria to dwindle still further, so that by the 18th century it was only a small town.
Earthquakes, subsidence and rising sea levels meant that most of the Royal Quarter had slipped beneath the waves and only since the mid-1990s has underwater archaeology started to rediscover its remains. For the Georgian sightseer on his Grand Tour, Alexandria was a tremendous disappointment.
Could this be it?
James Bruce reported in 1768 that ‘now we can say of [Alexandria], as of Carthage, per/ere ruinae. Even its ruins have disappeared’.
Alexander the Great was definitely a great warrior and Alexandria a great city, but now both are nothing but words in a text book.
A man arrives at the gates of heaven.
St. Peter asks, “Religion?”
The man says, “Methodist.”
St. Peter says, “Get on bus #1.”
Another man arrives at the gates of heaven.
“Get on bus #1.”
A third man arrives at the gates.
“Get on bus #1.”
The man says, “I’m a bit confused because I thought we were all one and would all go to the same place (Gal 3:26-29)?
St. Peter tells him, “We are. Bus #1 is Abraham’s bus.
“What is bus #2?”
“That’s where the Catholics, Jews, Muslims and the rest of the pagans go. They were lost on earth, and their lost. Bus #2 is Satan’s bus.”
I’m sure someone has said something like, “We can learn from that,” and we can. Yet, I know we need to look at the big picture and not get to caught up on things here on earth, past of present. Because You said that You are going to destroy it and build a new one.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever (1 Jn 2:17).
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away and there was no more sea.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:1-2).
Therefore, even though it’s okay to learn from others, if we put anything man has done or is doing in front of Jesus then not only are we committing idolatry, but we learn nothing of any value.
I enjoy history that relates to Your Son, not matter how little. For example, the article I posted yesterday, about the railroad tracks, I don’t see anything connection between that and Jesus. Yet, it goes back to Rome and therefore I’m interested.
Things like World War I and II don’t interest me because I can’t find any correlation between that and Jesus.
Tomorrow we’re going to look at one more piece of the city of Alexandria, we’ll look at...
The Widow and the Judge
1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (meaning “Mound of Shards”) is a historical archaeological site located in Alexandria, Egypt and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.
Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa
Lofus Kiramaikos (Greek)
Coordinates 31.178558°N 29.892954°E
Location Alexandria, Egypt
Type Tomb, Burial chamber, Necropolis
Height 100 feet
Beginning date 2nd century
The necropolis consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult with Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman influences. Due to the time period, many of the features of the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa merge Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultural points; some statues are Egyptian in style, yet bear Roman clothes and hair style whilst other features share a similar style. A circular staircase, which was often used to transport deceased bodies down the middle of it, leads down into the tombs that were tunneled into the bedrock during the age of the Antonine emperors (2nd century AD).
R2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
“Neither regarded man” – unconcerned about the needs of others or what God wanted.
3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
“A widow” – particularly helpless and vulnerable because she had no family to uphold her cause. Only justice and her own persistence were in her favor.
4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
“Shall not God avenge his own elect…?” – if an unworthy judge who feels no constraint of right or wrong is compelled by persistence to deal justly with a helpless individual, how much more will God answer prayer!
“Bear long with them” – God will not delay His support of the chosen ones when they are right. He is not like the unjust judge, who had to be badgered until he wearied and gave in.
8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
“Shall he find faith on the earth?” – particularly faith that perseveres in prayer and loyalty (see Matt 24:12-13). Christ makes a second application that looks forward to the time of His second coming.
A period of spiritual decline and persecution is assumed – a time that will require perseverance such as the widow demonstrated.
9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Alexandria is the second largest city and the second largest metropolitan area in Egypt after Greater Cairo by size and number of population of 4.1 million, extending about 20 miles along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country. It is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. Alexandria is Egypt’s largest seaport, serving approximately 80% of Egypt’s imports and exports. It is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria is also an important tourist resort.
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
“Fast twice in the week” – fasting was not commanded in the Mosaic law except for the fast on the day of atonement. However, the Pharisees also fasted on Mondays and Thursdays.
“Tithes of all that I possess” – as a typical 1st century Pharisee, he tithed all that he acquired, not merely what he earned.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
“Be merciful to me” – the verb used here means “to be propitiated.” The tax collector does not plead his good works but the mercy of God in forgiving his sin.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
More than ten years of archaeological surveys of the Great Harbor of Alexandria have completely changed the conception of the ancient topography of the port area of the city. The remains of ancient port structures show the high level of port’s organization and well correspond to the descriptions of ancient authors. This new archaeological data permits to consider general aspects of navigation within the Great Harbor. The most probable courses of the ships calling to the Great Harbor and leaving it under sail or oars have been considered while taking into account ancient sources, hydro-meteorological factors and the performance of the rigging of the time. An important role of the alignments for the navigation within the harbor is underlined and some possible reference points are proposed. In the absence of archaeological proofs some thoughts are developed on the probable disposition of the Navy and on the location of the shipsheds for the winter storage in greco-roman times.
“As a little child” – with total dependence, full trust, frank openness and complete sincerity to God.
18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother.
21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.
23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26 And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved?
27 And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
28 Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,
Roman amphitheaters are amphitheaters – large, circular or oval open-air venues with raised seating – built by the Ancient Romans. They were used for events such as gladiator combats, chariot races, venationes and executions. About 230 Roman amphitheaters have been found across the area of the Roman Empire. Early amphitheaters date from the Republic Period, though they became more monumental during the Imperial Era.
30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
“In this present time, and in the world to come” – the present age of sin and misery and the future age to be inaugurated by the return of the Messiah. The present age he’s talking about is not just then, but now too.
31 Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:
33 And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.
34 And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
35 And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging:
36 And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant.
37 And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.
Cleopatra’s Needle is the popular name for each of three Ancient Egyptian obelisks re-erected in London, Paris, and New York City during the nineteenth century. The London and New York ones are a pair, while the Paris one comes from a different original site, Luxor, where its twin remains. Although all three needles are genuine Ancient Egyptian obelisks, their shared nickname is a misnomer, as they have no connection with Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, and were already over a thousand years old in her lifetime. The London and New York “needles” were originally made during the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III. The Paris “needle” dates to the reign of Ramesses II in the 19th Dynasty and was the first to be moved and re-erected as well as the first to acquire the nickname, “L’aiguille de Cléopâtre” in French.
38 And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
39 And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
40 And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him,
41 Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.
42 And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.
43 And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.
…the Library of Alexandria.