Alexandria, the cosmopolitan Mediterranean beauty, was named after its founder Alexander the Great over 24 centuries ago. The city that was once the capital of Egypt, (322 BC - 642 AD) has rich historic and cultural layers that even extend to below sea level.
Walking the city with architect and artist Mohamed Gohar unfolds so many layers of intangible heritage in the Maiden of the Mediterranean.
Sidi Al-Metwali Street
Sidi Al- Metwali street (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
Our walk started in the heart of the ancient city on Al-Metwali street, not far from Al-Labban police station, in one of the oldest districts of Alexandria.
A site very close to the small island of Pharos and the district of Racoda (Rakhotis), lies the nucleus of the city that Alexander the great built upon his great city.
According to UNESCO, which proclaimed Alexandria the city of the year 1999, the ancient Egyptians had a settlement on the Mediterranean, well before Alexander ever named that city “Alexandria”. To them, it was Ra-aa-qedet (Rakhotis) which meant the city which Ra blesses/presides over, or “the place of building”. It was known by that name until the end of the Byzantine Era. It is said that Rakhotis was not a “small fishermen village” as some have described it. Instead, it is believed – based on radioactive carbon-dating – that it was founded about 700 years prior to Alexander’s city and was a rather large city comprising twelve villages. To the Greeks, Alexandria was referred to as the Fort of Alexander on the Ionian Sea. Alexandria lies on a strip of land which is sandwiched between the Mediterranean to the north and Lake Mareotis to the south.
Amid such rich historic plateau, coils Al-Metwali street. According to the Encyclopaedia of Al-Gazayerli, on the names of streets in Alexandria, “it was mentioned in the book of Tabaqat, by Al-Shaarani, that Sidi Al-Metwali was a seller of boiled hummos in Al-Hussinia district, Cairo. He was stationed next to El-Amir Sharaf El-Din Mosque. Known to be a man of God, this Walli (Saint) lived during the reign of Sultan Qaitbay. During a time of adversity as goods were overpriced, Al-Metwalli used to bake for the poor and give them food. According to urban myth, this walli was said to have seen Prophet Mohamed during his sleep and while awake, and is said to have travelled to Jerusalem and visited the tomb of Virgin Mary there.”
On the very street that bears his name, lies the mausoleum of Sidi Al-Metwali. Opposite to it is a sabil (free drinking water dispenser) which was founded in 1946 by hajj Said Moustapha, who vowed to build it next to Sidi Al-Metwalli if his prayers to have a child were answered, and they were.
The Mausoleum of Sidi Mohamed Al Waqas (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
The street leads us to the Fatimid mausoleum of Sidi Mohamed Al-Waqas. On the horizon, we caught the site of a high green hill topped by an old light house, which was not part of our walk.
A view of the old lighthouses from afar (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
We decided to make a small detour and visit Kom Al-Nadora, one of the oldest hills in ancient Alexandria. On our way to Kom-Al Nadora we were greeted by the smell of pastrami. This is where one of the oldest pastrami makers is located. You could not miss it, just follow the mouth-watering smell and look up, you will find dozens of pastrami blocks dangling from the rooftop to dry.
The Egyptian Pastrami factory since 1927 (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
Kom Al-Nadoura and the Light House
Kom Al Nadoura (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
A few meters behind, we came across an enchanting site. A greenish hill split by a small stairway that leads to a lighthouse. That is the historic site of Kom-Al-Nadoura. The word kom means little hill and this term usually denotes that it is a hill that has layers of historical sites. Al-Nadoura (surveillance spot) is derived from the slang word Nadourgi (the one who conducts the stake out), historic site that stretches for about 6 feddans. The hill at its highest point is 25 meters high and holds several heritage sites that date back to the reign of Mohammed Ali.
The old lighthouse (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
It also includes the light house that was built in 1926 during the reign of King Fouad I. It is said that this lighthouse was built amid the ruins of an older Fatimid tower that was used to guard the coastal area of the city. In the old days, the highest two points of Alexandria were Kom Al-Nadoura and Kom Al-Shouafa. From the top of the lighthouse the view is breath taking. One can see the whole port.
Inside the light house (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
According to UNESCO, “The port is to the north of that stretch of land where stone jetties have been erected along that stretch. Alexandria's topography is characterised by a series of elevations consisting of limestone hills that stretch along the sea coast. Alexander the Great ordered the construction of a stone bridge joining the Island of Pharos to the mainland. The Eastern and Western Harbors were created in this way. Tis bridge was later named the Hepastadium, i.e. seven stades; it was about one mile long. The Citadel of Qaitbay was built on what remained of the Island of Pharos in the year 1480 AD.”
And this is exactly what we were looking upon. Hopefully this excavation site will be opened for the public soon.
The view from the lighthouse. (Photo by Amira Noshokaty)
The King of Egyptian Cotton
Abdel Fattah Al-Gendi, oldest boxer and shop owner in the area of Friday Market (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
A few meters away, we came across the location of Alexandria’s oldest market. Souk Al-Gomaa (the Friday flea market) is held every week on a vast road that overlooks the old warehouse of cotton harvest.
The old warehouse of the king of Egyptian cotton (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
Premises of the Friday flee market in Alexandria (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
“This is the warehouse of Mohamed Farghali Pasha, the King of Egyptian Cotton,” boasted Abdel-Fatah Al-Gindy, an old boxer and owner of one of the shops on the street. Working in the same spot for decades, he lamented the days when this warehouse was running, a prosperous era that sadly came to an end with nationalisation.
The stock market of Mina Al-Basal (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
At the end of the street is a great old façade that reflects another era gone by. Borsat Mina Al-Basal (The stock market of Mina Al-Basal) is a building that is over 100 years old. Still standing in full glory, it is not hard to imagine the merchants debating the rates of their cotton harvest. On one wall reads a sign saying, “God wants you to do everything with proficiency,” Hadith Sharif.