Alexandria – Travel

The regular steamers hardly stop long enough to give you time for a run up to Cairo, and the winter-cruise boats not only stop two and a half days but provide also all excursion arrangements for seeing Cairo, so that what I could write here would be already taken care of.

Alexandria itself is a fine modern city like Algiers, with opera and resident English colony and Church of England and all the paraphernalia of foreign government. So much happened here that it is confusing to recall a tenth of it. The city of Cleopatra and Mark Antony; of that earlier romance of the great Julius with the young queen, who bore him the Caesarion and was not ashamed of it; with all that Shakespeare and Shaw have familiarized the public. Its Ptolemaic and Mameluke times are more obscure. The ancient Greek city, fourth among the beacon lights that spread Greek culture and thought all around the Mediterranean, is so buried under the modern that even the identification of its landmarks is a matter for archeologists.

The famous mole is under the present Ras et Tin quarter. It joined Pharos Island near the present Grand Square and there rose the Moon Gate. No trace of the lighthouse, where Caesar made the notable jump that figures in Shaw’s play, now remains, and the Navalia for the Greek and Roman triremes along the mole has been silted up and became a fig orchard, if the name of the modern Ras et Tin quarter suggests anything. Beyond that quarter rose the Bucheum, fourth finest of Greek cities. Two main streets, two hundred feet wide and lined with statues and colonnades, intersected it at the Mausoleum of Alexander the Great, about where the Mosque Nabi Daniel now stands. The line of the Canopic, one of these streets, ran east and west about coincident with the modern Boulevard del la Rosette. Much more of Alexandria is now under the sea where the royal palaces stood. Recovery of their relics has been tried by German archaeologists—but the sea is no place for excavations!

The Great Theater stood on Hospital Hill, near the present Ramleh station. Near it was the temple of Poseidon, and to the west, near Pompey’s Pillar, was the Serapeum, most famous of Alexandria’s temples. Along the Canopic were the Gymnasium, Palaestra, temple of Saturn, and the mausolea of Alexander and the Ptolemies. Founded by the great conqueror in 332, it fell to some of his generals in the division after his death at Babylon. The Ptolemies, as this dynasty was called, made the city rich and powerful, and finally one of them willed it to Rome, in 80 B.C. The rest we are familiar with, until Christian times, when Alexandria became the world’s seat of learning and here were fought the last battles between pagan philosophy and Christian theology. The salon of Hypatia stands out as a monument of that epoch.

A sad one, for the world’s growth in thought, precursor of the Dark Ages, in fact; for, under fanatical Christian bishops, the vast library of Alexandria, 700,000 volumes, was pillaged and burnt, and many a lost play of )Eschylus went into the ovens to bake the priests’ bread 1 What were left, the Moslem conquerors burnt—”all those that did not contain the name of Allah.” With what care did the learned of Europe gather up the scraps fourteen centuries later! Even now we are still groping for what we have missed, but may rediscover it later through blood and tears.

It all happened in Alexandria. Its later history is not momentous. It declined with the rise of Cairo, and died as the result of the discovery of the new route to India around the Cape of Good Hope, thus doing away with the need for the last caravan route. Under Britain and the Sudan a new city has arisen, for the position of Alexandria, port of the Nile, guarantees it an immortality.

If but a short time ashore, you can head for the Place Mehemet Ali, center of life of the city, visit the shopping district of the Rue Sherif Pasha and buy Egyptian shawls of silyer and lace, pocketbooks and cigar cases of gun-metal inlaid with brasswork of Egyptian gods, dadoes, prints and embroideries that might have come from Tut’s tomb, and all the rest of the tourist’s Egyptian plunder. The fine drive along the sea wall begins a short distance from here. The Zinzinia Theater, municipal palace, and museum are all in the Boulevard de ]a Rosette, named after that Rosetta stone with its inscriptions in Greek and hieroglyphics that gave the key to the latter. See also the Greek Patriarchate and its court yard, and the Komel Shugarpha, the catacombs.

Enough, for a short visit t The trains to Cairo run every three hours, on the hour, from Ramleh station and take about three and a quarter hours to get there. The distance is one hundred and twenty-fiye miles, rather elaborate for a car, and the fare is sixteen shillings, second class. If you have a full-day stop of the ship, with its usual hang-over until some indefinite time of night, you can get the nine o’clock train to Cairo, arriving there at 12:20, and return by the 3:40, reaching Alexandria by 7:05. Taking a car at the central railway station, you will have time to see the Cairo museum with the new Tutankhamen exhibits, a dash out to Gizeh and the Pyramids, return to Cairo and see either the Copt Cathedral of St. Marks and the church of St. Sergius, where the Holy Family is said to have stopped during the flight into Egypt, or the mosques and the tombs of the Mamelukes, all of which are grouped around the citadel. You cannot well see both.

However, even this brief glimpse of Cairo is worth while. You are bound to take in the Ezbekieh Gardens and the terraces of Shepheard’s Hotel on the way. The cruising ships do not cover very much more, but give you a deal more time about it. One should never rush through Cairo, if it is at all possible to stay. Better set it aside for another and more leisurely stop. A day alone given to the Museum is little enough. Another at Gizeh; and at least a morning to the Alabaster Mosque, Sultan Hassan, and Ibn Tulun. The afternoon, since we are in Islam, to the Mameluke tombs (of which Sultan Barbouk and Khail Bey are the finest), the Citadel of Saladin, and the Mausoleum of Naziz Kalaun. And then the bazaars and the monastery of the howling dervishes (better seen at Kairouan).

Still, much can be done in a flying visit. We once got off the steamer at Suez, tool: the train to Cairo, saw the Pyramids and the town, and caught the steamer again by train to Port Said, all while she was coming up the canal!

This book is mainly of impressions. It is not what you see but the significance of what you see that counts. I have tried to guide you throughout so as not to miss anything of first importance during the precious time ashore, and at the same time to put in just enough history to enable you to place the thing seen accurately in the general picture of the Scheme of Things of the world’s building. The Mediterranean is the cradle of our race. Its history is a long one—nothing at all compared with the venerable antiquities of China and India and Burma—but it is ours. And the preponderance of its significance is Greek. They led the Aryan world in culture and thought, in everything but war and religion, for which see Rome and India. They modified materially that Norse-Aryan stock which for a thousand years was in contact with them around the shores of the Mediterranean. We have visited a few places where Semitic civilizations hold sway or have obliterated the old Aryan roots.

But I believe in that old Aryan ancestor of ours who once came out of Central Asia with his sword and his Rig Vedas in hand, with his three castes of the priesthood, the warriors, and the farmers already developed. He over-flowed into India and Asia Minor, and from thence has conquered vast areas of the globe, from Khamskatkha to Patagonia. He is us. To this day we still organize our society on his three divisions, the men of thought, the men of the sword, and the men of the plow.

We have not discovered a better, nor has Mongol or Semite. The Greek story of the Mediterranean tells us what the Aryan can do when he reaches the only other element needed, the Sea. Its later history tells how he can struggle up again when overwhelmed by his own barbarian cousins, who saw too much of the sea. And still he has, unexplored, inexhaustible mines of achievement within him, the domain of religion; and the road to that points back whence he first emerged, India. What cannot the Aryan do! If his Mediterranean has any significance, it is that.