Review by Sarah Griffiths
The city of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great (c.331 BC), was strategically situated on the Mediterranean coast at the junction of three continents, protected by reefs, headlands, and the Pharos Island to the north, and by Lake Mareotis to the south. The city quickly grew under the Ptolemies to become a major centre of Hellenistic culture and scholarship, home to the largest library in the ancient world. With its the famous lighthouse, an engineering masterpiece that survived into the medieval period, Alexandria remained the capital of Egypt until AD 641.
Alexandrian archaeology has seen something of a revival over the last few decades, with impressive discoveries on land and underwater. Sadly, the renewed interest coincides with the loss of many ancient remains under the sprawling modern city, so this timely volume is essential for anyone wishing to explore Alexandria in antiquity.
The author sets out to create a comprehensive topographical catalogue and reconstruction of ancient Alexandria, from the 4th century BC to the Arab Conquest, incorporating relevant chronicles from classical/late antiquity, the Renaissance, and more recent scholarship. He traces the urban layout over time, including the locations of the main civil, religious, and funerary monuments, and catalogues the archaeological sites, with particular reference to the pioneering work of Mahmoud Pasha al-Falaki who, between 1863 and 1866, drew up a series of maps for Napoleon III.
The main catalogue takes each of the eight urban sectors, and gives a detailed description of the principal civic and funerary monuments found there, including initial construction, references in classical texts, history of excavation work, and current status. For structures such as the royal residences, the library, and royal cult temples that have long been lost, literary evidence is discussed ‘pending physical evidence’.
Nearly half of the volume is taken up with colour plates presenting an extensive collection of maps and plans (dating from 1472 to the present day), necropolis and tomb layout diagrams, early photographs, modern aerial photography, and computer-aided reconstruction maps of Alexandria at different periods (with a link to download these as pdfs).
Alexandria Antiqua: A topographical Catalogue and Reconstruction
by Amr Abdo
Paperback £58 (includes pdf)