Despite its impressive shoreline, Alexandria – the self-proclaimed “Capital of Arab Tourism” – seems to be a city in decline. (Hint: watch out pedestrians).
When the Green Prophet’s editor heard I’d be stopping in Alexandria en route to the MENASOL solar energy conference in Cairo next week, she asked (implored) me to write a post from there. So, after my first day in Egypt’s second largest city, here are a few first impressions. (I’ll let some pictures do the talking too.) Any Alexandrians or others familiar with the city are invited to comment and tell me what I missed and where these first impressions are mistaken.
I arrived in Alexandria on a bus that raced down the narrow Cairo-Alexandria desert highway, with the driver blasting his horn every few seconds to warn anyone else on the road to get out of his way. I was later to discover that Alexandria is also the most treacherous place I’ve ever experienced as a pedestrian. However, I seemed to be one of the only tourists strolling around the city. (A souvenir peddler later explained to me that most foreign tourists get bused straight to and from their cruise ships to the various museums and sites.)
Anyway, approaching Alexandria from the desert road is not very pretty. A large industrial complex, belching smoke, reminded me of the ugly stretch of New Jersey you pass after exiting lower Manhattan.
The industrial complex on the outskirts of Alexandria reminded me of this scene from New Jersey.
I was prepared to encounter a city that had lost the cosmopolitan vigor and romance depicted, for example, in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, but I did not expect to find such a thick layer of neglect and litter. (I am writing this now after arriving in Cairo a few hours ago and I was surprised to find Cairo much cleaner and somehow less manic.)
Here’s a picture of Alexandria’s most famous mosque.
Just adjacent to the mosque is a dilapidated market with piles of garbage and an awful stench. I did meet one local beauty there, however.
The kids below also seem undeterred by the trash floating in the sea and piled up on the beach – just across the street from one of Alexandria’s top attractions, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
The impressive library, completed in 2002, is sparkling clean and state-of-the-art. The library includes skylights to illuminate the expansive reading areas without allowing direct sunshine to reach the books. Part of the complex (pictured below) is designed to represent the rising sun.
Are these solar panels? Nope. And the library tour guide noted that I was not the first person to ask this question.
To be fair, I did find some tidy corners of the city, and people making an effort to clean up.
My first impressions of Alexandria might suggest that the sun is setting – or has already set on the once grand city. But perhaps I’ll come away from the MENASOL conference later this week convinced that the sun is indeed rising for Egypt, including its famous port city.