Posted by: aiawinnipeg | September 17, 2012

The Layered City of Alexandria

Alexandria from the French Institute hostel… July 2006

This coming Sunday’s lecture by John Dillon, in which he proposes to examine Alexandrianism through the ages, reminded me of my own, very brief encounter with that city. In July 2006, a small group of archaeologists were brought to Alexandria by the French archaeological mission to discuss the future of studies of transport amphora studies in the Eastern Mediterranean. The hope was that this meeting of minds would come away with a unified research plan and better lines of communication. There were, of course points of success and points of failure to our meeting, but it was a great introduction to an amazing city.

We stayed in an early 20th century apartment building, of the same sort that have mostly been long-since torn down in Greece, but many of which still stand in Alexandria. We drank coffee at cafes staffed with Greek -speaking waiters, and imagined Cavafy composing his poetry just across the room. The crowds that emerged as darkness fell could be transplanted to any Mediterranean, night-life culture. But an early morning run (5am to avoid the heat of mid-day) along the famed Corniche took me past women wading in the ocean in full Islamic dress. Such are the modern, cultural layers of Alexandria.

Of course there are the archaeological layers too. The modern excavation sectors sometimes have ancient names (like the Serapeion, remains from which are illustrated here), but sometimes the names preserve the more modern grandeur of the city: the Majestic Cinema, the Billiards Palace, the Diana Theatre. Despite the presence of the very bustling and crowded modern city, archaeological studies have thrived in Alexandria and its surroundings. For the latest news from Alexandria, you can visit this site, the Centre d’Études Alexandrines.

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