08 Oct Cleopatra’s Alexandria: How to Prepare Your Mind, Body, and Bags
Travelling the world is not just about experiencing other modern cultures; you get to learn about their roots and what makes their people tick. The real eye-opener, however, is visiting a country famed for its ancient civilizations – like Egypt. A lot of history! A lot of memorable figures! But who can surpass the fabulous Cleopatra?
Alexandria is the place to be for fans of the Egyptian Queen. As the epitome of feminine strength and intelligence, she makes the perfect role model for new solo travellers who are worried about how travelling alone is done and what people might think of the lone traveller. Whether on your own or you’re wanting to try out a new destination with a friend or partner, follow in the ancient Queen’s footsteps for an epic perspective of Alexandria.
Alexandria was established by Alexander the Great in 332 BC and was recognised for centuries as a key Mediterranean port and industrial city, linking several cultures in one magnificent place. Wars, progress, and multicultural influences – Greek, Arabic, British and more – have since transformed its cosmopolitan appearance and identity. Today, it retains the memory of its former glory and a handful of landmarks, each worth exploring when you visit.
We can thank writers like Constantine P. Cavafy and Shakespeare for keeping ancient Alexandria alive. In fact, if it wasn’t for works like Antony and Cleopatra, with Royal Shakespeare Company adaptations now circulating in varied forms, from DVD and CD to postcards and books in the classroom, interest in this city’s legacy may have been lost completely. Luckily, the world’s fascination with Cleopatra never faded.
It was her personality and exploits as much as her relationships with powerful men that allowed her name to endure. Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh and other actresses found fame by portraying the iconic Queen, but movies are not the only part of modern pop culture she inspired. Consider comic books like Asterix and Cleopatra (1963), the TV series Rome (2005-2007), the 90s R&B/Pop girl group Cleopatra or even the Colgate-Palmolive soap popular in France in the 60s.
Video games with historical contexts have included her in their depictions of ancient rulers. She features heavily in game titles like Civilization VI and Assassin’s Creed, more prominently in Origins. Furthermore, in iGaming, the Egyptian-styled Cleopatra online slot features five golden reels spinning scarab beetles, sphinxes and the Eye of Horus. Evidently, Cleopatra’s role in history can be appreciated in many different and unexpected ways.
Advice to travellers? Keep your eyes and ears peeled for interesting and exciting links between the ancient and modern world.
Plan Your Steps
A trip to Egypt demands preparation. It’s hot, dusty, and chaotic, if not intimidating, to first timers. For starters, avoid stress and discomfort by packing light and with precision. Keep in mind clothes that will keep you cool and classy – light-coloured linen and cotton are the best choices, not forgetting some comfortable shoes. While Cleopatra was carried around in cushioned litters and extravagant boats, you’ll be needing your feet.
Since the harbour was and remains the heart of Alexandria, with its bustling market being of particular interest to the city’s sovereigns, it must be included in your list of destinations. Today known as the Corniche, TripAdvisor highlights the 3 km promenade’s popular features, including a beach lined with restaurants and cafes where you can indulge in delicious local cuisines, make new acquaintances, and enjoy the Mediterranean sea breeze.
3. Get out there
If you’re looking for a more adventurous and rewarding experience, make sure you arrange a dive down to the ruins of Cleopatra’s palace, submerged by a devastating earthquake and tsunami along with its island Antirhodos. French archaeologist Franck Goddio, only guided by the texts of the ancient Greek historian Strabo, led the underwater search in 1998. GoUNESCO details the incredible first sighting of its columns. 22 feet high, 13 feet in diameter and composed of ornate Egyptian red granite! Other discoveries include 20,000 objects, not to mention a 30-metre-long shipwreck and a giant granite sphinx representing Cleopatra’s father.
The 330-foot Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the world, no longer stands at all, crumbled from age and that same earthquake before being completely replaced by the Qait Bey fort, but which used some of the original Pharos stone. However, the Smithsonian explains that a search of its waters around 1993, under archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur, revealed massive fragments of a Poseidon statue and pieces of the lighthouse, among other astonishing treasures. You could dive again to see it all up close or simply visit the fort to learn about the history of Pharos, the pride of Cleopatra’s nation. An underwater museum is also said to be in the works.
Finally, since the Queen herself was an avid scholar, missing out on a tour of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina would be a big mistake, as it was built in honour of the original Library of Alexandria, destroyed along with its centuries of collected knowledge. The new gigantic structure opened in 2002, its walls of grey Aswan granite featuring carved representations of 120 scripts. According to the guide on Egypt Tour Plus, the library is amazing but not counted as an ancient attraction, so may not be included in tour packages. Fortunately, going it alone is no biggy for solo travellers.
As you can tell, Alexandria has no shortage of interesting sights and activities, despite its misfortunes. Keep browsing for other Cleopatra-themed experiences to be added to your to-do list and make a careful travel plan to improve your packing, timetable and peace of mind. Above all, enjoy Egypt to its utmost.