Thursday, March 29, 2007

Smithsonian Magazine: Raising Alexandria

It is nice to have a really good survey of an area online, from time to time, and this is one such article on the Smithsonian website. The five-page article takes the reader through a complete summary of Alexandria's archaeology and history, tells the story of how ancient Alexandria has been rediscovered and recovered, describes some of the individual discoveries and discusses some of the theories as to why much of ancient Alexandria is now under water. It is nicely written in a journalistic, rather than academic style and it paints a very lively picture of the present meeting the past both underwater and on dry land. It is accompanied by a lovely underwater photograph of a diver face to face with a sphinx. I found that each page took a while to load, but they emerged eventually.
"Empereur and other scientists are now uncovering astonishing artifacts and rediscovering the architectural sublimity, economic muscle and intellectual dominance of an urban center that ranked second only to ancient Rome. What may be the world's oldest surviving university complex has come to light, along with one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pharos, the 440-foot-high lighthouse that guided ships safely into the Great Harbour for nearly two millennia. And researchers in wet suits probing the harbor floor are mapping the old quays and the fabled royal quarter, including, just possibly, the palace of that most beguiling of all Alexandrians, Cleopatra. The discoveries are transforming vague legends about Alexandria into proof of its profound influence on the ancient world."
To accompany the above article there is an interview with one the author, Andrew Lawler: "The city felt inhabited by so many layers, so many ghosts from so many eras, and yet was also a thoroughly modern Egyptian city. So it was an unusual combination of past, present and future. It's all very rich. I spent a lot of time simply walking the streets, walking around without focusing too much on maps or guidebooks, just wandering because I know in Forster's book he and others have talked about the value of simply wandering the streets of Alexandria. You can really get a feel for the different kinds of architecture and the different eras."
Finally, the Smithsonian have rounded off their Alexandria theme with the question "Who Was Cleopatra?". The two page article looks some of the myths and tries to dig into some details of what was acutally known about Cleopatra VII: "What kind of pharaoh was Cleopatra? The few remaining contemporary Egyptian sources suggest that she was very popular among her own people. Egypt's Alexandria-based rulers, including Cleopatra, were ethnically Greek, descended from Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy I Soter. They would have spoken Greek and observed Greek customs, separating themselves from the ethnically Egyptian majority. But unlike her forebears, Cleopatra actually bothered to learn the Egyptian language. For Egyptian audiences, she commissioned portraits of herself in the traditional Egyptian style. In one papyrus dated to 35 B.C. Cleopatra is called Philopatris, "she who loves her country." By identifying herself as a truly Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra used patriotism to cement her position.
Cleopatra's foreign policy goal, in addition to preserving her personal power, was to maintain Egypt's independence from the rapidly expanding Roman Empire. By trading with Eastern nations—Arabia and possibly as far away as India—she built up Egypt's economy, bolstering her country's status as a world power. "
See the above pages for the full story.

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