Alexandria (Arabic: El Iskandariya, Egypt, the nation's second largest city and principal port. It lies at the western edge of the Nile Delta, near the Nile's Rosetta branch, and fronts on the Mediterranean Sea. Alexandria has been a major port and prominent city throughout most of its existence since ancient times.
Alexandria is a leading commercial and industrial center of Egypt. Banking, shipping, warehousing, and manufacturing are of major significance. Cotton textiles, cement, petroleum products, and processed foods are among the main manufactured products. Alexandria is linked to the Nile Valley by railways and highways and also by canal. The city's airport handles international and domestic flights.
The University of Alexandria is the chief institution of higher learning. The Greco-Roman Museum displays varied antiquities recovered mainly from the city's site. Among the few structures that remain from ancient times are the catacombs, a burial site of the second century B.C., and a Roman temple column known as Pompey's Pillar. Alexandria has several splendid mosques, beautiful parks and gardens, and promenades and resort-lined beaches along the coast. The city is sometimes called “the Riviera of Egypt.” Ras el Tin and Muntazah are former royal summer palaces that now house museums.
Alexandria was founded in 332 B.C. by Alexander the Great and became the capital of the kingdom established by Ptolemy I, one of Alexander's generals. The city was noted throughout the Hellenistic world for its beautiful buildings, parks, and avenues and for its modern conveniences, such as street lights and underground channels for freshwater pipes and sewers. Among its famous structures were the tomb of Alexander, the lighthouse on the adjacent island of Pharos, several great obelisks (one of which is now in New York and another in London), and numerous palaces and temples.
Alexandria became the commercial link between Europe and the East. Ships from Mediterranean countries crowded its fine harbor. The Nile River provided a trade route to East Africa and to Arabia by way of the Nile-Red Sea canal. The population of Alexandria, predominantly Greek and Jewish, was between 400,000 and 500,000 in 200 B.C. Many industries grew up, especially the manufacturing of glass, papyrus, and linen. The pharaohs supported an academy, known as the Museum, that had the largest library in the ancient world. Alexandrian scholars took the leadership from the Athenians in many fields of learning, particularly science and medicine.
In 48 B.C. Julius Caesar brought his army to Egypt; in 30 B.C. Rome annexed the Ptolemaic kingdom. Alexandria remained a commercial and intellectual center during the Roman period and played an important part in the development of the Christian church. In the third century A.D. the city suffered several disasters. The Emperor Caracalla, suspecting the Egyptians of disloyalty, in 215 ordered a massacre of all male Alexandrians of military age. In 270 the city fell to Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, in a battle in which half the population died. Although retaken by Rome the next year, Alexandria had begun a long period of decline. In 642 the city was taken by the Muslims, who established a new capital at the site of what is now Cairo.
After the sea route from Europe to the Indies was discovered at the end of the 15 th century, Alexandria's commerce dwindled rapidly. At the time of Napoleon's invasion in 1798, the population was no more than 10,000. Mohammed Ali, who became pasha (governor) of Egypt in 1805, undertook the restoration of the port and the city. The harbor was improved, a canal to the Nile was built to provide fresh water, and new residential areas were built up. Alexandria was connected with Cairo by railroad in 1856. The growth of traffic after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 restored the city to a position of importance.