Since I was a kid and I use to read books about Alexander the Great, I wanted to go to Alexandria. The story tells of Alexander’s dream when he arrived victorious to the lands that now occupy this fair city – then it was just a small fishermen village. In the dream, an old man inspired him to build a city there, and with his own hands, he delineated the perimeter of the city with flour in the form of a Macedonian cloak. The new city would carry his name and ancestors for posterity. Soon after, birds arrived through the Nile and ate the flour. The oracle told him that it was a good omen: the city would be prosperous.
And prosperous it was; for centuries, it became the cultural and economic centre of the Mediterranean Sea, and this importance has left a mark that still lingers in the air.
As with every action that follows an inspiration, Alexandria has a mythical appearance. The light is soft and sifted and when the eye meets it upon the contours of the city, it feels as if they are being gently caressed. The constant rumour of the sea has a soothing effect on the spirit and the present moment is embedded into an aura of unreality.
It’s impossible to speak about Alexandria without comparing it to Cairo. That is the first thing that you are asked when you tell someone in Cairo that you’ve just returned from Alexandria, “isn’t it much nicer”?
And I always give an ambiguous response.
In a way, Alexandria is nicer than Cairo. The colours are more vivid, the buildings more harmonious. The sea kisses its shores like a newlywed her bride. The streets, although still not more spacious, don’t suffer the same stress of Cairo. Walking through the promenade at night with the locals, you feel that you could make a home here.
But, on the other hand, Alexandria is very lonely. It has a population of 8 million that almost doubles in summer, when everyone escapes the heat of Cairo to more merciful places. Despite that, one feels that she is not understood except by a few.
Alexandria is lonely because her beauty dazzles the eye of the admirer and blinds him to her real self. Her character is built by thousands of years of history and erudition, by artists that admired her and dedicated their talents to her, by kings that honoured her with gifts and by saints that filled her with illumination and generosity. And all of that is present, waiting to be unveiled.
But, as usually happens with a beautiful woman, she feels that what attracts all sights to her, is the same reason that no one really knows her.
The heart of Alexandria is her library, burnt and rebuilt numerous times throughout her life. The new one is a modern and spacious building with metal beams and wooden floors. It is built in a pyramidal form, and from the top, you can see infinite rows of books descending with intercalated desks to study. It’s a place that awakens a desire to know. And above one of its doors, it is conveniently written: ‘From knowledge to wisdom’.
Her spirit is that of the scholars and saints buried there who welcome those who come to visit. Shaykh Abu Abbas al-Mursi and his disciple Shaykh Busiri, author of the Burdha, are very close to each other, but with a convenient distance to avoid confusions.
From a sound heart and a profound spirit emanate harmonious forms, and Alexandria transmits just that. Although she’s ageing and not very well kept, her manners still exude fineness.
There is a saying in Egypt that someone that has grown up in Alexandria would never leave the city. And I believe that to be true, for those have gotten to know her. For how could they leave the side of this beautiful lady that has opened her heart to them, if not forced by the vicissitudes of life?
This time I’ve also wanted to share some pictures with you… They are not great, they were taken with my phone, but I think it will give a little glimpse…