Alexandria Governorate is one of the governorates of Egypt, located in the northern part of the country, directly on the Mediterranean Sea, making it one of the most important harbours in Egypt. The city of Alexandria was historically the capital of Egypt until the foundation of Fustat, which was later absorbed into Cairo. Nowadays, the Alexandria governorate comes second in importance after the Cairo Governorate. Alexandria Governorate is located in the northern part of the country, directly on the Mediterranean Sea, making it one of the most important harbours in Egypt.
- Location of Alexandria Governorate
- The Foundation of Alexandria
- Birth of the Concept
- Planning the city
- City Quarters
- Alexandria at the Ptolemaic Era
- A Capital City
- The Port
- A Beacon for Science and Culture
- The Society
- Political Organization
- Alexandria in the Roman Era
- The City System
- Social Life
- Religion Environment
- Economic Environment
- Culture Environment
- Monuments in Alexandria Governorate
- Industrial zones
Location of Alexandria Governorate
Alexandria governorate lies along the Mediterranean coast and stretches about 70 km northwest of the Nile Delta. Thus, the Mediterranean Sea bounds the governorate in the North, El Beheira governorate in the south and the East and Matrouh governorate in the West.
Along with Cairo, Port Said and Suez, Alexandria is one of four governorates in the country also municipalities. The governorate capital is the city of Alexandria, the second-largest city in Egypt. The total area size of the Alexandria governorate is almost 2818 km2. It has the most significant harbour in Egypt. It is the second-largest urban governorate in the country, with a population of more than four and half million (4,799,740 in March 2015) and a population density of 1700 square kilometres, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Alexandria has a unique geographical location and a mild climate. It is also considered an industrial governorate where 40% of Egyptian industries are concentrated, especially chemicals, food, spinning and weaving, and petrol industries and fertilisers.
The Foundation of Alexandria
The bond between Egypt and the Hellenic Empire dates from centuries before Alexander the Great. Greek merchants and brokers were located in a village called “Kom Ge’eif” in the Governorate of Beheira, and Egyptians were particularly close to the Greek community in Egypt during the entire time of the Persian occupation of the Nile Valley.
When Macedonia unified the Hellenic Empire into a mighty army, Philippe decided to attack the Persian Empire. Still, he died short of fulfilling his goal, which became the task of his successor, his son Alexander the Great, to undertake.
The crushing victory of Alexander the Great over the Persians in Asia gave him control over the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. As Alexander took control of all ports and harbours of the Eastern Mediterranean, he reached the location of Alexandria in the autumn of 332 B.C. On entering Alexandria, the Persian ruler of the city surrendered without resistance, and Alexander entered the city in triumph.
Travelling further south, he reached the City of Menf, where he was warmly welcomed by the poor farmers who were euphoric at the ousting of the evil Persians. Alexander was ceremoniously crowned in a Pharaonical ceremony as the Son of Amon and ordered the construction of the seaside city of Alexandria, which was to bear his name forever.
Birth of the Concept
As Alexander the Great rides along the Mediterranean Coast, a plot of land between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Mariout catches his attention. With its unique features and intrinsic peculiarity, the spot was ideal for founding a great city of the most modern style. It had easy access to fresh water from the River Nile via the Canopic Branch. It was hardly a mile away from a small island strategically placed right on the opposite side, allowing for the possibility of connecting them both and creating a formidable natural frontline for the city. To the south was Lake Mariout, another natural border, which further fortified the city defences. On the outskirts of the area to the West was the Racotis Village, populated with fishers. Alexander was firmly persuaded of the importance of building a city bearing his name to immortalise his memory for good and become a port for international trading in the entire region.
Faithfully conceived by Alexander the Great, the idea was conveyed to Democrats, the Greek architect appointed by Alexander the Great to plan the new city.
The name of Democrats remains closely associated with the history of Alexandria since he started planning the city’s layout in 331 B.C. The genius of this architect became evident as he blueprinted plans for roads, squares and districts of the city. Democrats were born on the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean Sea. He had been a close advisor of Alexander the Great. He accompanied him on his expeditions to scout the area, which started from the town of Canopic Abou Kir to Racoda village and the Island of Pharos, to decide on the most suitable spot to build the great city of Alexandria.
Planning the city
Democrats chose to use the hippo-dame theme for the city, which consisted of two main roads intersecting at right angles, while other side streets were planned to be parallel to these perpendicular axes. Such a cityscape was widespread across Greek cities in the Fifth Century B.C. Democrats also thought of building a bridge linking the mainland with the island, later on, called “Pharos”, at the height of 1300 meters.
As this bridge was erected, the port was split into two parts: the main port – known as the Grand Port – on the Eastern side and the Lesser Port – known as Port Al Awd Al Hamid – on the Western side.
Alexandria was divided into five quarters, bearing the first five letters of the Greek Alphabet. Quarters included the Royal Quarter (Brucheum), the Jewish Quarter (with the Great Theater extending across the centre of town from East to West, a district known as Canopus Street (currently known as Fouad Street), bordered by Canopus Gate to the East, Sedra Gate to the West and the long street stretching North to South intersecting with Nabi Daniel Street, connected to the North by the Moon Gate and to the south by the Sun Gate.
Across times, Alexandria has played a significant role in Egyptian History and the Civilized World, extending beyond the Ptolemaic Era – heirs to Alexander the Great’s rule in Egypt – to well beyond 30 B.C. Though Alexander the Great laid out his vision of the city in 332 B.C., he continued his journeys eastward of Egypt. He was never to see this city immortalising his name for posterity.
Alexandria at the Ptolemaic Era
The death of great Alexander never gave him a chance to bear witness to the birth of the city that took his name and immortalised him. It was under the rule of Ptolemy I (Soter) that the municipality bloomed until the rule of Ptolemy II “Philadelphus”, who ruled from 285 B.C. till 246 BC., when it became the most significant and most famous capital of the world, surpassing ancient Greek and modern Egyptian cities and a centre for the Ancient World admiration.
A Capital City
The Ptolemies designated Alexandria to be the capital of their rule, given its unique location on the Mediterranean Sea and its closeness to battlefields where combat among rival forces in the region could potentially break out.
The Ptolemies chose Alexandria to be a centre for spreading their belief in the Egyptian God of Serapis to the whole region and achieved their mission with great success.
Alexandria had become the first Egyptian port in deep waters, given that it is directly located right by the sea. It had also become the meeting point and transit for trading routes connecting Egypt with other regions it dealt with. Alexandria was also considered the first hub for the Egyptian import and export industry.
Egypt started to import cedar wood from the northern Balkans and the Levant for the industry of shipbuilding. The Ptolemy imported gold from Spain and India, silver from Spain and Greece, iron from the islands of the Aegean Sea, Armenia and the entrances to the Black Sea, marble from Greek islands, and silk textiles from Phoenicia.
Egypt imported some raw materials to manufacture some products then exported them to the West, such as precious stones, ivory and Ostrich feathers, in addition to its exports, including oil, wheat, papyrus, and glass products, which had initially been Egyptian.
A Beacon for Science and Culture
During the Ptolemaic era, two important institutions were founded between 288 and 280 B.C. These institutions are:
The University of Alexandria, or the Museion, also known as the House of the Muses. Students at this university were the elite of the society, including students of science, intellect and literature from all over the world, as Ptolemy invited them from all parts of the world.
The Great Library: encompassing a considerable number of written volumes or rolls, which amounted to about seven hundred thousand and about two hundred thousand rolls added by Cleopatra VII.
The Ptolemies aimed to support their rule with the most significant number of skilled people. Therefore, they encouraged Greeks to emigrate to Egypt and, particularly, to Alexandria to provide the city with the most efficient workforce and work in all fields.
Alexandria became mainly populated with Egyptians, Greeks and Jews. Egyptians represented the more significant segment of society. However, Egyptian Alexandrian citizens never had the same rights as Greek ones, who enjoyed a privileged status given that Greeks were formally considered the elite. In contrast, Jews and Egyptians did not have a right to citizenship.
Two main political trends dominated the political scene in Alexandria during the Ptolemaic Era:
The central rule of the Pharaonic Era prevailed in Alexandria, which was the capital.
In addition to the central rule, Macedonian and Greek elements were also introduced into the political life of the city, known as the Macedonian and the Alexandrian political parties.
The political system was supposed to combine the central and popular methods, but the international instability forced the Ptolemies to prioritise the central rule system. Thus, principal public services remained under the central rule, including foreign policy, economic matters, security, research and cultural activities, while local councils dealt with day-to-day affairs.
In addition to the Macedonian and the Alexandrian Councils, an Advisory Council also existed in the city of Alexandria.
Alexandria in the Roman Era
On his first entry to the city, Emperor Augustus (30-13 B.C.) used a wise policy to enter Alexandria as a conqueror. He declared a general amnesty for all Alexandrians and Egyptians, did not take revenge on anyone, contrary to the ancient tradition when opening an opposing city, and refrained from allowing his soldiers to loot the town. To gain their sympathy and safeguard from any revenge from their side. Plutarch, the historian, says that Caesar Augustus walked to the city holding his right arm to bestow honour and tells of the long march of the Emperor in the city, hand in hand with Arius, the philosopher, in a show of confidence and respect from the citizens. He then entered the gymnasium (an institution for the education of citizens) and sat at the top of the podium.
Half-deified, he was worshipped by the people who bowed before him. Still, he ordered them to rise to their feet and declared his general amnesty for various reasons. Firstly, Alexander the Great – founder of the City of Alexandria. Secondly, for his admiration of the city’s beauty and appreciation for his master and friend – Arius. It is claimed that he delivered his speech in Greek to enable his audience to understand him.
The City System
Augustus Emperor revoked the Alexandrian House of Commons and ordered the city to be ruled by the Alexandrians.
As for the executive authority, represented by the appointed rulers of the city, the Ptolemaic era system continued unchanged. The positions were held as prestigious posts and never paid. Only citizens who were rich enough to spend on the job were appointed to these posts.
Augustus’s Roman sovereignty and dominion over Egypt had caused Alexandria to lose its independence and significance. To begin with, the Alexandrians were not satisfied with their new situation, but they were unable to rebel either publicly or directly against Roman rule.
Therefore, Alexandrians resorted to two outlets for their repressed rage; firing jokes about their rulers and ridiculing them, lashing out at those who supported the rulers, and empathising with them.
At the end of the second century, the political conflict grew in Rome, and Alexandria started to announce its indignation at the Emperor by supporting his opponents. The last rebellion against the Emperor, in which Alexandrians took part, was created by a Roman officer in the city against Diocletian, who had to go to Alexandria in person to put down the revolt causing a lot of damage and destruction to the town.
As a Greek city founded by Alexander the Great and later ruled by the Ptolemies and the Romans, Alexandria was populated by the Greeks, its foremost citizens, followed by others who were deemed worthy of enjoying its citizenship.
Under Roman rule, Alexandrian citizenship was a privilege only granted by the Emperor himself.
For a long time, Alexandrians represented the elite of Egyptian society. Many villagers and rural dwellers flocked to Alexandria to seek special privileges and evade the heavy taxes otherwise imposed on them.
Worship of the Alexandrian trinity of Serapis, Isis and Hour persisted. In addition to this traditional trinity, worship of Roman Emperors replaced the worship of the Ptolemies.
Further, the worship of Roman Emperors emerged as public worship taking place during public celebrations but not in households. Various religious cults also existed under the rule of the Greek Empire.
If Ptolemy adopted an approach of master planning and monopoly of most economic activities by the state, the Romans had a reverse approach; a free economy in many fields to revive the state’s economy.
It is worth noting that the economic status of Alexandrians flourished immensely due to foreign trade. Alexandrians turned part of their wealth into the ownership of farms. In such circumstances, major iqta’as, known mainly as “Al Wesiya” in the history of Egypt’s agriculture during the first century of Roman rule, started to emerge.
In terms of industrial and commercial life, Alexandria was regarded as the largest centre for industry and trade in Egypt and across the entire Roman Empire.
The glass, papyrus and textiles industries became quite popular, in addition to other small enterprises, including jewellery making, perfumes, and fine crafts, e.g. metal sheet works, among others, whose materials were imported from Africa and Asia to be manufactured in Alexandria.
Alexandrians used their naval fleets in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. In the Mediterranean, they had the first trading fleet, whereas, in the Red Sea, Alexandria completely monopolised the trade to the East up to India.
Romans favoured both cultural and scientific institutions in Alexandria, as evidenced by the famous Alexandria Library, the House of Wisdom, schools and auditoriums, which attracted many students from within Alexandria and afar. Further, scientists and researchers were granted many exclusive privileges and tax exemptions.
Among the most eminent scientists of that era was Ptolemy, the Geographer who excelled in mathematics, astronomy and physics. He had laid out a map of the world on which countries and cities were drawn at accurate scales.
Alexandria is known for its diverse history as several cultures throughout the years have occupied it. Several monuments nowadays shape Alexandria’s historic sites.
Monuments in Alexandria Governorate
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina
- Citadel of Qaitbay
- Graeco-Roman Museum
- Alexandria National Museum
- Royal Jewelry Museum
- Serapeum Temple
- Pompey’s Pillar
- Roman Amphitheatre
- Also, the Lighthouse of Alexandria
According to the Egyptian Governing Authority for Investment and Free Zones (GAFI), in affiliation with the Ministry of Investment (MOI), the following industrial zones are located in this governorate:
- New Manshia
- Al Nasseria
- Upper and Lower Mergham
- The industrial zone in K 31, Desert Road
- Al Nahda and its expansions
- Ohm Zagheou
- Also, (New urban community industrial zone) Borg Al Arab
- Al Montaza Gardens
- Al Shallalat Gardens
- Antoniadis Garden
- El-Nozha Garden
- Also, the International Park of Alexandria
Alexandria Governorate follows the Egyptian Educational System in its public schools and universities.
Most notable educational institutes
- Bibliotheca Alexandrina ( Alexandria Library)
- Alexandria University
- Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport
- Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology in New Borg el Arab city.
- The city of scientific research and Technological Applications
- Also, Pharos University
The governorate of Alexandria has several sports clubs that represent the governorate, such as:
- El Ittihad Alexandria Club
- Egyptian Olympic Athletes Club
- Smouha Sporting Club
- Also, Alexandria Sporting Club
Alexandria governorate’s most common sport is football and holds three main stadiums, which are:
- Borg El Arab Stadium
- Alexandria Stadium
- Also, Haras El-Hedoud Stadium
- Alexandria Port
- Al Dekheila Port is The second largest port in Alexandria Governorate after Alexandria Port).
- Abu Qir Port
- Also, Eastern Port is One of the oldest ports, built-in 2000 B.C in Racoda village to serve ‘Pharos Island’).
- Alexandria Tram
- Also, Alexandria Railways
Alexandria Governorate has two international airports:
- Borg El Arab Airport