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 Alexandria-A Home Fit For Kings

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Location: Alexandria---Arsinoea Sarione Ptolemy

PostSubject: Alexandria-A Home Fit For Kings   Mon Dec 21, 2009 3:55 am

Alexandria

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Alexandria was a Greco-Roman city at the western end of the Mediterranean coast
of Egypt, founded by Alexander the Great. In ancient times, the city was
known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient
World) and the Library of Alexandria (the largest library in the ancient world).
Ongoing maritime archaeology in the harbour of Alexandria (which began in 1994)
is revealing details of Alexandria both before the arrival of Alexander, when a
city named Rhakotis existed there, and during the Ptolemaic dynasty.

A thriving and cosmopolitan city during the Ptolemiac and
Roman periods, by 320 BC Alexandria had replaced Memphis as the capital of
Egypt. With its gridded street plan, it was essentially a Greek rather than
Egyptian city, with a substantial population of Greeks and Jews. The major monuments of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods
were the Sarapeum, a temple dedicated to the god Serapis, which may have housed
part of the library collection, the Caesarium (founded by Cleopatra in honour of
Mark Anthony), and Kom es-Shawqafa, a labyrinth
of rock cut tombs dating to the first two centuries AD.

The Pharos of Alexandria


Fort Qait Bey was
built on the site of the Pharos in the 15th Century by the Sultan of
Egypt, Qait Bey. Some of the fallen stone from the ruin of the
Pharos is said to be incorporated into the walls of the fort.




The famous lighthouse (Pharos), one of the
Seven Wonders of
the Ancient World, was constructed early in the Ptolemaic period on the islet of
Pharos, approximately 1.5km from the coast. The building was designed by
Sostratus of Cnidus in the 3rd century BC, after having been 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.

Unfortunately virtually nothing of
this ancient lighthouse has survived. With a height variously estimated at
between 115 and 135 metres it was among the tallest man-made structures on Earth
for many centuries, and was identified as one of the Seven Wonders of the World
by Antipater of Sidon.

Initially built as a navigational landmark, the Pharos was constructed from
large blocks of light-coloured stone, and made up of three stages: a lower
square section with a central core, a middle octagonal section, and, at the top,
a circular section. In the Roman period, around the first century AD, a mirror
was positioned at the apex, which would reflect sunlight during the day and a
fire was lit there at night. Extant Roman coins struck by the Alexandrian mint
show that a statue of a triton was positioned on each of the building's 4
corners. A statue of Poseidon stood atop the tower during the Roman period.

It ceased operating and
was largely destroyed as a result of two earthquakes in the 14th century
AD. There is the possibility that the
fortress of Qait Bey, on the Pharos penisula, may incorporate a few stray blocks
from the lighthouse - some remains were found on the floor of Alexandria's
Eastern Harbour by divers in 1994. More of the remains have subsequently
been revealed by satellite imaging and recent discoveries around the Fort Qait Bey site have
unearthed many objects, including what experts believe may be some remains of
the Pharos lighthouse.

The Roman Cemetery Of Kom el-Shouqafa




Kom el-Shouqafa is the Arab translation of the ancient
Greek name, Lofus Kiramaikos, meaning "mound of shards" or "potsherds."
Its actual ancient Egyptian name was Ra-Qedillies, and it lies on the site
where the village and fishing port of Rhakotis, the oldest part of
Alexandria that predates Alexander the Great, was located.

The underground tunnels of the catacombs lie in the
densely populated district of Karmouz to the east of Alexandria. The cemetery dates back to
the 1st century AD and was used until the 4th century AD. According to
popular belief, on the 28th September 1900, by pure chance, a donkey cart fell into a pit, which led to the
discovery of the catacombs. In reality, a local Alexandrian man, Saïd Ali
Jibarah was quarrying for stone when he broke open the vault of a
subterranean tomb.

The catacombs were most probably used as a private tomb,
for a single wealthy family, and later converted to a public cemetery.
They are composed of a ground level construction that probably served as a
funerary chapel, a deep spiral stairway and three underground levels for
the funerary ritual and entombment. The first level consists of a
vestibule with a double exedra, a rotunda and a triclinium. The second
level, in its original state, was the main tomb, with various surrounding
corridors. It was reached by a monumental staircase from the rotunda. The
third level is submerged in ground water, which has also caused it to be
saturated with sand. The catacombs also contain a large number
of grooves cut in the rock known as "loculi". In its final
stage, the complex contained over one hundred loculi and numerous rock-cut
sarcophagus tombs.

The catacombs are unique both for their plan and for
their decoration, which represents an integration of the cultures and
traditions of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was a place where
people seemed to have a talent for combining rather than destroying
cultures. Though the funerary motifs are pure ancient Egyptian, the
architects and artists were clearly trained in the Greco-Roman style. Here
then, we find decorations related to ancient Egyptian themes, but with an
amazing twist that makes them quite unlike anything else in the world.

Archaeological treasures

Pompey's pillar Inside the catacombs of Kom El-Shouqafa




The archaeological exploration of the city has been compounded
by the fact that many of the antiquities in Alexandria were gathered together
from all over Egypt to adorn new temples, or in preparation for transportation
to other parts of the Roman empire. For instance, Cleopatra's Needle, on the
Embankment in London, and the Central Park obelisk in New York both once stood
in the Caesarium in Alexandria, having originally been brought there from
Thutmose III's temple to Ra-Atum in Heliopolis.

Little
excavation has taken place in the ancient town, as it lies directly below the
modern city centre. Parts of the road leading from the river port to the sea
harbour were examined in 1874, and one of the most striking surviving monuments
was Pompey's Pillar (see above), a granite column which was erected by the Roman emperor
Diocletian in 297 AD, close to the site of the Serapeum, the largest and most
magnificent of all temples in the Greek quarter of Alexandria. Besides the
image of the god, the temple precinct housed an offshoot collection of the
great Library of Alexandria. The Greek geographer Strabo tells that this
stood in the west of the city. Nothing now remains above ground.


The Royal Library of Alexandria

The Royal Library of Alexandria was once the largest
library in the world. It is generally thought to have been founded at the
beginning of the 3rd century BC, during the reign of Ptolemy II after his
father had built what would become the first part of the library complex:
the temple of the Muses - the "Musaion".

The library's collection
was already famous in the ancient world, and became even more so in later
years. It is impossible, however, to determine how large the collection
was in any era. The collection was made of papyrus scrolls, and later,
parchment codices, which were predominant as a writing material after 300
AD, may have been substituted for papyrus. A single piece of writing might
occupy several scrolls, and this division into self-contained "books" was
a major aspect of editorial work. Mark Antony was supposed to have given
Cleopatra over 200,000 scrolls for the Library.

No index of the library
survives, and it is not possible to know with certainty how large and how
diverse the collection was. It is likely, for example, that even if the
library had hundreds of thousands of scrolls (and thus, perhaps, tens of
thousands of individual works), that many of these were duplicate copies
or alternate versions of the same texts. The library, or at least parts of
the collection, were destroyed by fire on a number of occasions, however
the details of the destruction (or destructions) remain a lively source of
controversy. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina was inaugurated in 2003 near the
site of the old library.

Underwater Discoveries

Colossal head from grey
granite, identified as Caesarion, son of Cleopatra and Julius
Caesar.
Sphinx found on
Antirhodos Island.
Marble head resembling
Antonia Minor (36BC-37AC), daughter of Marc Anthony and Octavia.




Very little of the ancient city has survived into the present
day. Much of the royal and civic quarters sank beneath the harbour due to
earthquake subsidence, and much of the rest has been rebuilt upon in modern
times. The underwater section contains much of the most interesting sections of
the Hellenistic city, including the palace quarter.
Despite archaeological interest above ground,
the potential for an ancient underwater site was largely ignored. It wasn't
until 1961 that the first underwater "excavation" took place - Kamal
Abu el-Saadat persuaded the Egyptian Navy to haul out a colossal statue of Isis
from the murky depths of the harbour. The French archaeologist
Jean-Yves Empereur and a team of thirty divers from the National Centre of
Scientific Research began a comprehensive and detailed exploration of the
underwater site. An additional project led by another Frenchman Franck Goddio, of the
European Institute of Underwater Archaeology soon followed suit.

The legendary sunken parts of the ancient city of
Alexandria, lost for over 1600 years, were discovered through the
archaeological work of underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio and his team
in 1992. After extensive research, detailed topographical surveys with the
use of sophisticated electronic equipment, and careful excavations in
Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour, Franck Goddio presented the unique
discoveries for the first time to the public in 1996.


Jean-Yves Empereur

Empereur's survey of the Qait Bey site
has revealed more than 300 enormous blocks, which he believes (others
are more sceptical) could represent the remains of the legendary Pharos
lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The survey
also revealed architectural elements such as columns and obelisks and
statuary, along with the remains of forty well preserved Greek and Roman
shipwrecks.


Franck Goddio

Goddio's work has focused on the
remains of a submerged palace with marble floors, situated within the
eastern harbour of Alexandria. In 3500 dives, his team has mapped a wide
range of piers and fallen columns and
fabulous statues - one of Isis, and a sphinx. The placement of the columns and
piers echoed the descriptions of Strabo, the Greek geographer who
visited the Library in 25 BC.


Underwater images courtesy of Frank Goddio Society





Don't miss these pages on the main site:
Alexander the Great - profile of the Macedonian
conqueror.
The Ptolemaic period.
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