By 331 B.C Alexander the Macedonian had already full control of Egypt. He conquered it in October 332 BC and crowned as a pharaoh at Memphis in November.
He stayed in Egypt not more than seven months. In order to legitimate his rule and to win the allegiance (loyalty) of the Egyptian priests, he planned a difficult journey to the renowned temple of Amun in Siwa Oasis, situated in a remote depression west of the Nile Delta.
His journey took him through the village of Rhakotis, on the Mediterranean coast. Alexander decided to found a city on the narrow strip of land east to Rhakotis, overlooking the island of Pharos, with Lake Mareotis to the south.
In 323 B.C, Alexander died, and his newly won empire was divided among his generals. Egypt was given to Ptolemy, who initiated a dynasty that lasted until 30 B.C. Ptolemy I oversaw the first steps in the making of the city named after Alexander – Alexandria- a city that was destined for glory and eternal fame. The city flourished under his successors.
The last queen of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, Cleopatra VII came to the throne at the age of 17. Her brother and husband Ptolemy XIII was only 13 years old. She had a younger sister of fifteen and a brother who was eight years old. The Romans sent General Pompey (after whom a column in the Sarapeion was later named) to serve as a guardian of the four children. Pompey was eliminated by Julius Caesar who flattered Cleopatra. She bore him a child called Caesarion.
After the death of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony married Cleopatra. Mark Antony’s stopover in Egypt was short-lived. He was pursued by Augustus Ocavtian, who won a decisive victory at Actium in 31 B.C.
Cleopatra decided to end her life, and Egypt ceased to be an independent country, becoming a Roman province as the private property of the emperor, who ruled it through a prefect.
The prefect of Egypt resided in Alexandria, which began to lose importance as the greatest city in the Mediterranean region, since the star of Rome was rising. Nevertheless, many of the Roman emperors were interested in Alexandria, and some of them visited it.
To commemorate his visit, Ocatvian founded a new town to the east of Alexandria, which was called Nicopolis, or the “City of Victory”, (the area is now known as Ramleh).
Egypt was later visited by several emperors beginning with Vespasian in 69 A.D.
At about that time (68 A.D), St. Mark who introduced Christianity to Alexandria was martyred.
On visiting Alexandria, Hadrian (117-138 A.D) ordered the restoration, among other monuments, of the temple of Serapis, which had been destroyed during the troubles. It appears that Hadrian was interested in the cult of Serapis, for he issued coins with a representation of the god. Hadrain was also interested in the Mouseion and its activities.
His successor, Antoninus Pius (138-161 A.D) also visited Alexandria and built a hippodrome (stadium used for horseracing) and two gates, the Sun Gate (eastern) and the Moon Gate (western).
A few decades later, Caracalla (198-217 A.D) visited Alexandria with his father Septimus Severus (193-211 A.D). He visited it once more fifteen years later. The inhabitants of the city made fun of him, and he retaliated by letting his troops sack the city and killed a great number of Alexandrians in a massacre which is said to have lasted several days.
Disturbances again broke out in Alexandria in the time of Diocletian (284-305 A.D). The emperor was obliged to come to Egypt in person to put down the revolt; he besieged the city for eight months and finally took it by force. Many Christians were persecuted, to the extent that the Egyptian Church started its calendar, commemorating the “Era of Martyrs”, 284 A.D.
By the 4th Century A.D, Christianity was well established and pagans were persecuted. The Sarapeion was destroyed in 391 A.D.
Amr ibn el-As conquered Alexandria, the Arab period in the history of the city began in 641A.D.
The Foundation of Alexandria:
There is no more impressive reflection of the achievement of the Greeks in Egypt than the great city which bears Alexander’s name. It dominated the eastern Mediterranean world politically, culturally and economically for 650 years.
When Alexander the Great decided to build Alexandria, his main aim was to construct a Greek city that would be the center for the dissemination (spreading) of the cultural enlightenment of Greek civilization in Egypt, geographically located in the heart of the ancient world. Alexander also planned to establish a naval base that would enhance his control of the Aegean Sea and the eastern part of the Mediterranean.
Ptolemy I moved to Alexandria when he was assured of his military capabilities in protecting the northern coasts of Egypt. By about 320 B.C, Alexandria had displaced Memphis and became the new capital of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt.
Alexandria became the largest Greek city in the world, and it maintained its advanced standing during the third and second centuries B.C to such an extent that these centuries are known as the period of Alexandrian civilization.
The location of Alexandria was selected for its proximity to Lake Mareotis and Pharos Island. The lake was connected to the Nile by a canal, which connected the city to the other Egyptian provinces.
The planning and layout of the city are associated with the name of the most famous architect of the day, Dinocrates of Rhodes.
When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, he defeated the Persian forces which were occupying Egypt. As a result, the Egyptians welcomed his arrival believing that Alexander the great came to help the Egyptians getting rid of the Persian occupation. Alexander went to the city of Memphis where he was crowned as the new pharaoh of Egypt in the temple of god Ptah.
Then, Alexander the Great decided to consult the oracle of god Amun at Siwa Oasis. Therefore, he followed the western branch of the Nile which was known as ‘the Canopic Branch’, until he reached the Mediterranean Sea and then he headed to the West. On his way to Siwa, he noticed the strategic site of Rhakotis which was a small Egyptian village for fishermen.
Many opinions mentioned that this village was the biggest village among nine villages. Therefore, Alexander ordered his chief architect ‘Dinocrates’ to plan a new city at this site carrying the name of Alexander the Great.
Dinocrates planned the new city as vertical streets intersected with horizontal ones. In other words, the plan of the new city looked like ‘the chess board’.
There were two main streets: one running from north to south and the other runs from east to west. In the intersection of these two main streets, the tomb of Alexander the Great was built. Recent excavations revealed that ‘El-Horriyah Avenue’ was the main street which ran from east to west. However, it is very difficult until now to identify the main street which ran from north to south. Some scholars believe that the main street from north to south is ‘El-Nabi Daniel Street’ while others believe that it was situated to the east, near Al-Shatbi.
Alexander the Great chose the site of Rhakotis or the city of Alexandria to be the seat of the empire, because Rhakotis was a strategic site as it was well-protected from the north by sea, from the south by Mareotis Lake which is too wide to be crossed (about 60 km.). Also, it was well-protected from the east by the western branch of the Nile and from the west by the desert. Therefore, it was easy to be defended and difficult to be conquered. Moreover Rhakotis was close to the Delta which was highly populated by the Egyptians, so the king could siege the Delta if they would make a revolt. The king and the Greek setters could easily escape from Alexandria by sea if the people of the Delta tried to attack the city of Alexandria.
Finely the new city could be used as a trade port between Egypt and Greece.
The city consisted of five districts, named after the first five letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Bita, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon Later, they were called, Klimata.
Very little is known about these districts of Alexandria, except for the fourth district ‘the Delta’ which was the quarter of the Jews, but its location is not known.
The streets of the city were paved by small blocks of basalt stone. The Royal Quarter was burnt during the war of Alexandria between Ptolemy XIII and Caesar who set fire in the fleet in the eastern port of Alexandria, then the fire extended to the Royal Quarter and the Library of Alexandria.
Opposite the royal district, there is an island called ‘Pharos’. On its south east side, the great lighthouse of Alexandria was erected. A great enclosure wall was built around the court of the lighthouse to protect it from the sea. This island was connected to the main land of Alexandria by a dyke called ‘the Hepta Stadia’. ‘Hepta’ means seven, while ‘Stadia’ is a Greek unit of measurement equals 187 meters. As a result of the construction of this dyke, two ports were formed; Portus Magnus which means the great port (the eastern port) and Portus Eunsotas which means the port of safe return (the western port). In the Graeco-Roman Period, Portus Magnus was the main port of Alexandria while Portus Eunstas was a subsidiary port. Nowadays, Portus Magnus is a port for fishermen, while Portus Eunsotas became the main port of modern Alexandria.
In the Ptolemaic Period, Alexandria became one of the greatest Hellenistic cities. In the Roman Period, Alexandria lost some of its importance. However, it was still an important city. In the Coptic and Islamic Periods, Alexandria began its decline.
The most important monuments in Alexandria:
1. The Light House (Pharos).
2. The Library and Mouseion.
3. Tomb of Alexander the Great.
4. The Cemetery of Al-Shatby.
5. The Cemetery of Mustafa Kamel.
6. The Cemetery of Kom El-Shoqafa.
7. The Temple of Serapis (Serapeum).
8. Pompey’s Pillar.
9. The Caesarion.
10. Ras El-Soda Temple.
11. The Roman Theatre.
12. The Roman Baths.