Alexandria & Sharm El Sheikh

Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt with a population of more than 3.3 million. Its location along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and its large natural harbor have made Alexandria a crossroads for merchants, scholars and warriors since its founding in 332 BCE by Alexander the Great.

After the defeat of Queen Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BCE, Alexandria fell under Roman rule. Visitors today can see the excavations of a Roman Odeon (theater) that are underway in the heart of Alexandria (for a photo, visit the Ptolemaic & Roman Eras page).

In ancient times, Alexandria was known as a center of learning and was home to the world's largest library, with a collection estimated at 700,000 scrolls. The ancient library and books have long since been lost. In October 2002, however, Alexandria revived the tradition by opening the newly-constructed Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which will eventually house up to five million books and serve as the largest library in the Middle East.

The modern city of Alexandria has a Mediterranean look and feel – especially along the Corniche that adjoins the Eastern Harbor – that is quite different from other Egyptian cities. Alexandria proved a welcome respite after the heat, traffic and dust of Cairo.

Another seaside town, this one developed only within the last several decades, is Sharm El Sheikh, on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The resort is a popular destination for European beach goers, especially Italians, and serves also as a gateway to many of the spectacular scuba diving sites in the Red Sea. While there is little of historical interest in Sharm El Sheikh itself, trips are offered into the nearby desert to visit Mount Sinai and Christian monasteries. The few days I spent in the area were devoted to scuba diving and left no time for the desert trip.

To continue the tour through modern Egypt, go to: Along the Nile.