Today, Alexandria is the major economic centre of Egypt, and its position as a Mediterranean port city has meant it’s been occupied for millennia. Discover the city’s past with a visit to one of these historic sites, from centuries-old Arabian palaces to archaeological digs.
Palace of Montaza
What? One of the best day trips from Alexandria is to the red-and-cream chequered Montaza Palace, on the east side of the city, overlooking the Al Montaza Gulf. Built in 1892 by Khedive Abbas II, the fantastical architecture (a mixture of Turkish and Florentine design) features arched porticoes, crenellations and a huge fairy tale turret. These days, you can visit the museum for an insight into the palace’s history, and take a wander around the tropical gardens: 150 acres of rare plants and winding walkways and forest you can get lost in. Spend the rest of the day checking out the five beaches in the grounds – Al Montaza Gulf is an incredible spot for scuba diving and snorkelling, too.
USP You can stay in the palace-within-a-palace, the El-Salamlek Palace Hotel in the grounds, for the full experience.
Al Mandarah Bahri, Qism Montaza
Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque
What? With its four beautiful domes, cream-coloured exterior and palm-tree-dotted gardens, it’s not hard to see why Alexandria’s largest mosque is one of the most visited spots on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. An important place of pilgrimage for many Muslims, the mosque was built in 1775 to commemorate scholar and saint Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi. Highlights include the beautiful Islamic tiles, intricate woodwork and the main colonnade, with its towering granite columns and marble floor. It’s open to visitors, but women will need to wear headscarves, and arms and legs should be covered.
USP The mosque’s wooden decorative work – inside, you’ll find doors, a minbar (pulpit) and windows made from finely carved teak and walnut.
El-Sayed Mohammed Karim, Al Mazar, Qesm Al Gomrok
Citadel of Qaitbay
What? An imposing fortress jutting into the Mediterranean sea, the Citadel of Qaitbay dates back to 1477. Its status as one of Egypt’s most important defensive strongholds was thoroughly tested in 1882, when the British attacked Alexandria, pounding the structure with cannon fire, which destroyed much of the western facade. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities undertook a massive restoration effort in the late 20th century, and today it’s one of Alexandria’s top tourist attractions. Don’t miss the opportunity to walk the ramparts, high above the Mediterranean Sea, before a wander through the fortress’s ancient passageways.
USP The citadel’s small mosque, with its colourful mihrab (prayer niche). Unusually, it doesn’t point towards Mecca – a nod to the architect’s belief that the building was first and foremost a military complex.
As Sayalah Sharq, Qesm Al Gomrok
What? These limestone tombs date back to 250 BC but were only discovered in the early twentieth century. Their creators clearly had a flair for interior design – the five interconnected tombs are delicately painted to suggest marble and alabaster (materials favoured by the Romans, and a common technique used during the Hellenistic period) in a mix of ancient Greek and Egyptian styles, and there are vaulted ceilings and ornate frescoes.
USP The geometric trompe l’oeil designs inspired by those that often adorned Alexandria’s ancient villas.
Shar’a Ras El Tin, El Anfushi
Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa
What? One of the best-preserved sites on the list, the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa date back to the second century AD and are said to have been unearthed when an unwitting donkey tumbled into their depths in 1900. It’s believed the catacombs started out as a single tomb for a wealthy family before becoming a larger burial site. Entry is via the remains of what was once a funerary chapel, beneath which is a subterranean spiral staircase winding around a central shaft, once used to lower bodies to their final resting place. There are three tiers of spectacularly ornate tombs and chambers to explore.
USP The intricate designs carved into the stone. This includes several serpents, one of which is just beneath an image of Medusa, a creature from Greek mythology whose presence was intended to protect the tombs from trespassers.
What? Kom el-Dikka was one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Alexandria during Graeco-Roman times. At its heart were a pleasure garden, sprawling villas and public baths, and you can explore its remains at this fascinating archaeological site. The white marble Roman amphitheatre is the only one of its kind discovered in Egypt. It has been well preserved, too, and more recent excavations have unearthed the remains of a mosaic-filled house.
USP New remains are being discovered all the time, so it’s highly likely you’ll be able to watch archaeologists at work.
Ismail Mahana, Kom Ad Dakah Gharb, Ataren