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At the commencement of the xixth Century, when Mohamed Ali conceived the idea of reviving its prosperity, Alexandria had dwindled to a village of 5000 or 6000 inhabitants, and lay sunk in slumber on the long neck of land which in the course of years had grown upon the site of the ancient Heptastadium.
There, where the town of the Ptolemies had led its life of magnificence, splendour and glory, ruin and death for centuries reigned supreme. Where the brilliant rays of the sun had shone on gold and bronze and marble, there remained alas! only an immense cemetery asleep in the sadness of an infinite silence.
What had become of the noisy city where « no one was idle », where artists, poets, philosophers and critics
had exercised their refined intelligence, where the love of gain was equalled only by the love of pleasure, and where women were as beautiful as they were frail?
Nothing remained! The sadness of death was everywhere. The area of the town shrunk more and more, and the cemeteries, which originally were situated to the East and West, encroached upon and almost entirely usurped the land formerly crowded by habitations. (fig. 1).
Here and there stood a solitary palm tree, its leafy crest, high above its long naked trunk, floating mournfully in the northern breeze. Cleopatra's Needle and Pompey's Pillar, in melancholy pride, like two giants surviving the disaster, gazed at one another from afar and told each other a tale of sorrow.
Slowly but surely the sand, in the idle and abandoned harbour, was silting up the sheltering ports that had held the mighty fleets of the Hellenistic epoch.
To the great Mohamed Ali belongs the credit of resuscitating the dead town of Alexandria. Success rapidly followed his courageous initiative. The remodelling of the Mahmudia Canal in 1819, together with the works undertaken in the harbour of Eunostos, helped Alexandria to recover part of the commercial activity which had been so prominent a feature of her former life. The Prince offered safe and liberal hospitality to Europeans, and their trading colonies grew in number very quickly. Death gave way to life, and in 1882, when the British occupied Alexandria, its population was some ten times what it had been at the commencement of the century. Since then, the town has increased enormously, in wealth, population and area.
The Alexandrians of to-day have been accused of
ignoring or neglecting the remains of their city's glorious past, for their feverish activity in levelling and building, causes many precious monuments to be broken or covered up, perhaps for ever. This state of things has been for two generations a source of anxiety and sorrow to archaeologists and to historians, but in spite of vandalism there are still many interesting things to be seen in the town of the Ptolemies. Nothing is more false than the widely spread idea that Alexandria has nothing to show to its visitors. This fiction has arisen from the fact that Alexandria is owing to its position, a point of arrival and a point of departure. point of departure. The tourist arrives in Egypt eager to see the Pyramids and the grand ruins of Pharaonic civilisation whose description have stirred his imagination since childhood. When he returns, he is homesick or anxious to see other countries. Alexandria, for him, is nothing but a port. But if he does not tarry, he will have but an incomplete idea of the marvellous history of this country, dead a hundred times and a hundred times resuscitated, and he will leave with a regrettable gap in the series of his impressions and his knowledge. We hope to demonstrate this clearly.
Perhaps I may be allowed to add a few words to the introduction to the first edition. It is pleasant to be able to state that the growing interest of travellers in Alexandria has made it necessary to reprint this volume. The town is improving rapidly and continuously in hygiene, comfort and all modern progress. The extensive new public parks, the broad quays now constructed along the sea front, the drainage works, the
opening of new hotels, render a stay at Alexandria both pleasant and healthy. Travellers and visitors, more numerous every day, keep on adding to the chorus of praise that hygienists have given to the climate of our town and its suburbs from Ramleh to Abukir. Weigall, the English historian, recently affirmed from his personal experience, that there was perhaps no climate in the world that could rival that of Alexandria towards the beginning of summer (1).
As for the present volume, I ought to say that it is not a simple reprint, but an almost entirely new work, carefully revised and much developed.
Some readers would perhaps have preferred a more definite pronouncement on questions of Alexandrian topography; but the student knows well that in these questions doubt is often the most scientific conclusion.
The Bibliography which follows each section, gives the most important publications on the subject, and all these publications, or very nearly all, can be consulted in the Archaeological library which is attached to the Museum and which is opened to the public at the same hours as the Museum.
It is my pleasant duty to thank the Istituto Italiano d'Arti Grafiche for the care it has taken in the printing and illustrating of the volume.
The photographs, for the most part, have been taken by Mr. Reiser; many are due to the friendly help of Dr. Arnoldo Rietti, others were provided by Mr. C. Mamluk, and some by Mr. Mohamed Saudi.
My sincere and grateful thanks are due to my late
(1) There is perhaps no climate in the entire world so perfect as that of Alexandria in the early summer. (WEIGALL, Life and Times of Cleopatra, Queen of Egygt, p. 21).
friend Father J. Faivre, S. J., to Professeur G. Lefebvre and to the late Mr. V. Nourrisson, who all gave me their willing help in the thankless task of the correction of the proofs. Father Faivre kindly revised my entire manuscript.
Finally I must not forget to thank Dr. Alexander Granville, the Ex-Director General of the Municipality, a man of broad and enlightened mind, whose desire it was that the book should be well printed and fully illustrated.