views updated May 21 2018


ALEXANDRIA , city in northern *Egypt.

Ancient Period

Jews settled in Alexandria at the beginning of the third century b.c.e. (according to Josephus, already in the time of Alexander the Great). At first they dwelt in the eastern sector of the city, near the sea; but during the Roman era, two of its five quarters (particularly the fourth (= "Delta") quarter) were inhabited by Jews, and synagogues existed in every part of the city. The Jews of Alexandria engaged in various crafts and in commerce. They included some who were extremely wealthy (moneylenders, merchants, *alabarchs), but the majority were artisans. From the legal aspect, the Jews formed an autonomous community at whose head stood at first its respected leaders, afterward – the ethnarchs, and from the days of Augustus, a council of 71 elders. According to Strabo, the ethnarch was responsible for the general conduct of Jewish affairs in the city, particularly in legal matters and the drawing up of documents. Among the communal institutions worthy of mention were the bet din and the "archion" (i.e., the office for drawing up documents). The central synagogue, famous for its size and splendor, may have been the "double colonnade" (diopelostion) of Alexandria mentioned in the Talmud (Suk. 51b; Tosef. 4:6), though some think it was merely a large meeting place for artisans. During the Ptolemaic period relations between the Jews and the government were, in general, good. Only twice, in 145 and in 88 b.c.e., did insignificant clashes occur, seemingly with a political background. Many of the Jews even acquired citizenship in the city. The position of the Jews deteriorated at the beginning of the Roman era. Rome sought to distinguish between the Greeks, the citizens of the city to whom all rights were granted, and the Egyptians, upon whom a poll tax was imposed and who were considered a subject people. The Jews energetically began to seek citizenship rights, for only thus could they attain the status of the privileged Greeks. Meanwhile, however, *antisemitism had taken deep root. The Alexandrians vehemently opposed the entry of Jews into the ranks of the citizens. In 38 c.e., during the reign of *Caligula, serious riots broke out against the Jews. Although antisemitic propaganda had paved the way for them, the riots themselves became possible as a result of the attitude of the Roman governor, Flaccus. Many Jews were murdered, their notables were publicly scourged, synagogues were defiled and closed, and all the Jews were confined to one quarter of the city. On Caligula's death, the Jews armed themselves and after receiving support from their fellow Jews in Egypt and Ereẓ Israel fell upon the Greeks. The revolt was suppressed by the Romans. The emperor Claudius restored to the Jews of Alexandria the religious and national rights of which they had been deprived at the time of the riots, but forbade them to claim any extension of their citizenship rights. In 66 c.e., influenced by the outbreak of the war in Ereẓ Israel, the Jews of Alexandria rebelled against Rome. The revolt was crushed by *Tiberius Julius Alexander and 50,000 Jews were killed (Jos., Wars, 2:497). During the widespread rebellion of Jews in the Roman Empire in 115–117 c.e. the Jews of Alexandria again suffered, the great synagogue going up in flames. As a consequence of these revolts, the economic situation of the community was undermined and its population diminished. See also *Diaspora.

[Avigdor (Victor) Tcherikover]

Alexandrians in Jerusalem

During the period of the Second Temple the Jews of Alexandria were represented in Jerusalem by a sizable community. References to this community, while not numerous, can be divided into two distinct categories: (1) The Alexandrian community as a separate congregation. According to Acts 6:9, the apostles in Jerusalem were opposed by "certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines and Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia." The Alexandrian synagogue and congregation are mentioned in talmudic sources as well: "Eleazar b. Zadok bought a synagogue of the Alexandrians in Jerusalem" (Tosef. Meg. 3:6;

cf. tj Meg. 3:1, 73d). (2) References to particular Alexandrians. During Herod's reign several prominent Alexandrian Jewish families lived in Jerusalem. One was that of the priest Boethus whose son Simeon was appointed high priest by Herod. Another family of high priests, the "House of Phabi," was likewise of Jewish-Egyptian origin, although it is not certain whether they came from Alexandria. According to Parah 3:5, Ḥanamel the high priest, who had been appointed by Herod in place of Aristobulus the Hasmonean, was an Egyptian, also probably from Alexandria. "*Nicanor's Gate" in the Temple was named after another famous Alexandrian Jew. Rabbinic sources describe at length the miracles surrounding him and the gates he brought from Alexandria (Mid. 1:4; 2:3; Yoma 3:10; Yoma 38a). In 1902 the family tomb of Nicanor was discovered in a cave just north of Jerusalem. The inscription found there reads: "The bones of the sons of Nicanor the Alexandrian who built the gates. Nicanor Alexa."

[Isaiah Gafni]

Jewish Culture

The Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria were familiar with the works of the ancient Greek poets and philosophers and acknowledged their universal appeal. They would not, however, give up their own religion, nor could they accept the prevailing Hellenistic culture with its polytheistic foundations and pagan practice. Thus they came to create their own version of Hellenistic culture. They contended that Greek philosophy had derived its concepts from Jewish sources and that there was no contradiction between the two systems of thought. On the other hand, they also gave Judaism an interpretation of their own, turning the Jewish concept of God into an abstraction and His relationship to the world into a subject of metaphysical speculation. Alexandrine Jewish philosophers stressed the universal aspects of Jewish law and the prophets, de-emphasized the national Jewish aspects of Jewish religion, and sought to provide rational motives for Jewish religious practice. In this manner they sought not only to defend themselves against the onslaught of the prevailing pagan culture, but also to spread monotheism and respect for the high moral and ethical values of Judaism. The basis of Jewish-Hellenistic literature was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible, which was to become the cornerstone of a new world culture (see *Bible: Greek translations). The apologetic tendency of Jewish-Hellenistic culture is clearly discernible in the Septuagint. Alexandrine Jewish literature sought to express the concepts of the Jewish-Hellenistic culture and to propagate these concepts among Jews and Gentiles. Among these Jewish writers there were poets, playwrights, and historians; but it was the philosophers who made a lasting contribution. *Philo of Alexandria was the greatest among them, but also the last of any significance. After him, Alexandrine Jewish culture declined. See also *Hellenism.

Byzantine Period

By the beginning of the Byzantine era, the Jewish population had again increased, but suffered from the persecutions of the Christian Church. In 414, in the days of the patriarch Cyril, the Jews were expelled from the city but appear to have returned after some time since it contained an appreciable Jewish population when it was conquered by the Muslims.

Arab Period

According to Arabic sources, there were about 400,000 Jews in Alexandria at the time of its conquest by the Arabs (642), but 70,000 had left during the siege. These figures are greatly exaggerated, but they indicate that in the seventh century there was still a large Jewish community. Under the rule of the caliphs the community declined, both demographically and culturally. J. *Mann concluded from a genizah document of the 11th century that there were 300 Jewish families in Alexandria, but this seems improbable. The same is true for the statement of *Benjamin of Tudela, who visited the town in about 1170 and speaks of 3,000 Jews living there. In any case, throughout the Middle Ages there was a well-organized Jewish community there with rabbis and scholars. Various documents of the Cairo Genizah mention the name of Mauhub ha-Ḥazzan b. Aaron ha-Ḥazzan, a dayyan of the community in about 1070–80. In the middle of the 12th century Aaron He-Ḥaver Ben Yeshuʿah *Alamani, physician and composer of piyyutim, was the spiritual head of the Alexandrian Jews. Contemporary with *Maimonides (late 12th century) were the dayyanim Phinehas b. Meshullam, originally from Byzantium, and *Anatoli b. Joseph from southern France, and contemporary with Abraham the son of *Maimonides was the dayyan Joseph b. Gershom, also a French Jew. In this period the community of Alexandria maintained close relations with the Jews of Cairo and other cities of Egypt, to whom they applied frequently for help in ransoming Jews captured by pirates. A letter of 1028 mentions this situation; it also praises Nethanel b. Eleazar ha-Kohen, who had been helpful in the building of a synagogue, apparently the synagogue of the congregation of Palestinians that may have been destroyed during the persecution of the non-Muslims by the Fatimid caliph al-Ḥākim (c. 996–1021). In addition to this synagogue there was a smaller one, attested to in various medieval sources that mention two synagogues of Alexandria, one of them called "small." The Jews of Alexandria were engaged in the international trade centered in their city, and some of them held government posts.

Mamluk and Ottoman Periods

Under the rule of the Mamluk sultans (1250–1517), the Jewish population of Alexandria declined further, as did the general population. *Meshullam of Volterra, who visited it in 1481, found 60 Jewish families, but reported that the old men remembered the time when the community numbered 4,000. Although this figure is doubtless an exaggeration, it nevertheless testifies to the numerical decrease of the community in the later Middle Ages. In 1488 Obadiah of Bertinoro found 25 Jewish families in Alexandria. Many Spanish exiles, including merchants, scholars, and rabbis settled there in the 14th–15th centuries. The historian *Sambari (17th century) mentions among the rabbis of Alexandria at the end of the 16th century Moses b. Sason, Joseph Sagish, and Baruch b. Ḥabib. With the spread of the plague in 1602 most of the Jews left and did not return. After the Cossack persecutions of 1648–49 (see *Chmielnicki) some refugees from the Ukraine settled in Alexandria. During the 1660s the rabbi of the city was Joshua of Mantua, who became an ardent follower of *Shabbetai Ẓevi. In 1700 Jewish fishermen from *Rosetta (Rashīd) moved to Alexandria and formed a Jewish quarter near the seashore, and in the second half of the 18th century more groups of fishermen from Rosetta, *Damietta, and Cairo joined them; this Jewish quarter was destroyed by an earthquake. At the end of the 18th century the community was very small and it suffered greatly during the French conquest. Napoleon imposed heavy fines on the Jews and ordered the ancient synagogue, associated with the prophet Elijah, to be destroyed. In the first half of the 19th century under the rule of Muhammad ʿAli there was a new period of prosperity. The development of commerce brought great wealth to the Jews, as to the other merchants in the town; the community was reorganized and established schools, hospitals, and various associations. From 1871 to 1878 the Jewry of Alexandria was divided and existed as two separate communities. Among the rabbis of Alexandria in modern times were the descendants of the Israel family from Rhodes: Elijah, Moses, and Jedidiah Israel (served 1802–30), and Solomon Ḥazzan (1830–56), Moses Israel Ḥazzan (1856–63), and Bekhor Elijah Ḥazzan (1888–1908). As a result of immigration from Italy, particularly from Leghorn, the upper class of the community became to some extent Italianized. Rabbis from Italy included Raphael della Pergola (1910–23), formerly of Gorizia, and David *Prato (1926–37). Later rabbis were M. *Ventura and Aharon Angel. During World War i many Jews from Palestine who were not Ottoman citizens were exiled to Alexandria. In 1915 their leaders decided, under the influence of *Jabotinsky and *Trumpeldor, to form Jewish battalions to fight on the side of the Allies; the Zion Mule Corps was also organized in Alexandria.

[Eliyahu Ashtor]

Modern Times

In 1937, 24,690 Jews were living in Alexandria and in 1947, 21,128. The latter figure included 243 Karaites, who, unlike those of Cairo, were members of the Jewish community council. Ashkenazi Jews were also members of the council. According to the 1947 census, 59.1% of Alexandrian Jews were merchants, and 18.5% were artisans. Upon the outbreak of the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, several Jews were placed in detention camps, such as that at Abukir. Most of the detainees were released before 1950. There were several assaults on the Jewish community by the local population, including the throwing of a bomb into a synagogue in July 1951. With *Nasser's accession to power in February 1954, many Jews were arrested on charges of *Zionism, communism, and currency smuggling. After the *Sinai Campaign (1956), thousands of Jews were banished from the city, while others left voluntarily when the Alexandrian stock exchange ceased to function. The 1960 census showed that only 2,760 Jews remained. After the *Six-Day War of June 1967, about 350 Jews, including Chief Rabbi Nafusi, were interned in the Abu Za'bal detention camp, known for its severe conditions. Some of them were released before the end of 1967. The numbers dwindled rapidly; by 1970 very few remained and in 2005 just a few dozen, mostly elderly people.

[Haim J. Cohen]

Hebrew Press

The first Hebrew press of Alexandria was founded in 1862 by Solomon Ottolenghi from Leghorn. In its first year, it printed three books. A second attempt to found a Hebrew press in Alexandria was made in 1865. Nathan *Amram, chief rabbi of Alexandria, brought two printers from Jerusalem, Michael Cohen and Joel Moses Salomon, to print his own works. However, these printers only produced two books, returning to Jerusalem when the second was only half finished. A more successful Hebrew press was established in 1873 by Faraj Ḥayyim Mizraḥi, who came from Persia; his press continued to operate until his death in 1913, and his sons maintained it until 1916. Altogether, over 40 books were printed. In 1907 Jacob b. Attar from Meknés, Morocco, founded another press, which produced several dozen books. Apart from these main printing houses, from 1920 on the city had several small presses, each producing one or two books. A total of over 100 books for Jews were printed in Alexandria, most of them in Hebrew, the others in Judeo-Arabic and Ladino. Most of them were works by eminent Egyptian rabbis, prayer books, and textbooks.

[Avraham Yaari]


ancient times: V.A. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), index; idem, Corpus papyrorum… judaicarum, 1 (1957), index; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 4 (19502), 267–86; A. Bludau, Juden und Judenverfolgungen im alten Alexandrien (1906); H.I. Bell, Jews and Christians in Egypt (1924); idem, Juden und Griechen im roemischen Alexandreia (1926). alexandrians in jerusalem: pefqs (1903), 125–31, 326–32; E.L. Sukenik, in: Sefer Zikkaron… Gulak ve-Klein (1942), 134–7; Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (19074), 87 n. 247, 502, 524 n. 77; S. Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Feshutah, 5 (1962), 1162; Stern, in: Tarbiz, 25 (1965/66), 246. arab period: Mann, Egypt, 1 (1920), 88; Ashtor, Toledot, 1 (1944), 247–8; 2 (1950), 111–2; 3 (1970); idem, in: jjs, 19 (1968), 8 ff.; B. Taragan, Les communautés israélites d'Alexandrie (1932). ottoman period: J.M. Landau (ed.), Toledot ha-Yedudim be Miẓrayim ha-Otmanit (1988), index; idem, Jews in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (1969), index; Tcherikover, Corpus, index; idem, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), 541–9 (bibliography), and index; Toledano, in: huca, 12–13 (1937–38), 701–14. hebrew printing: A. Yaari, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Arẓot ha-Mizraḥ, 1 (1937), 53–56, 67–85; idem, in: ks, 24 (1947/48), 69–70.


views updated May 23 2018


Greek, λεξάνδρεια; Latin, Alexandria. "The Paris of the ancient Mediterranean world," it was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 b.c. and became an important commercial, industrial, and cultural center and the chief city of Egypt.

Greek Learning. The museum and library founded by Ptolemy I c. 280 b.c., providing for 100 research scholars in the humanities and sciences, made the city one of the most influential centers of Greek learning. A flourishing Jewish colony produced the important scholar philo judaeus and made Jewish doctrine available to Gentiles and to Jews ignorant of Hebrew through the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, known as the Septuagint, which was completed in the 2d century b.c. Thus Alexandria was to some extent prepared for the arrival of Christian teaching, which, according to tradition, was brought there by Saint Mark, who was buried in the city. Apollos, one of Saint Paul's collaborators, was a Jew of Alexandria (Acts of the Apostles 18.24), and Paul on the voyage to Rome could talk with the sailors on two Alexandrian ships (Acts of the Apostles 27.6; 28.11). The Gnostic teachers basilides, Isidorus, and carpocrates found followers at Alexandria.

A landmark in the local Christian history was the founding of a Christian school of philosophy by pan taenus (late 2d century). Under its famous directors clement of alexandria (d. c. 215) and origen (185254), the school became an influential center of Christian scholarship. Alexandria was still a center of Greek learning, and Ammonius Saccas (c. 175242), the founder of Neoplatonism, lectured there. In this setting one of Clement's important achievements was to show that Greek learning could be put to the service of Christianity. Origen after a distinguished career was obliged to leave for Palestine over the question of his qualifications to be a teacher and a priest, and an Alexandrian council of 231 supported his bishop's disapproval of his activities.

Alexandrian Christians suffered persecution under Septimius Severus (202 and after), attacks from the pagans of the city under Philip (249), and persecution again under Decius (250), Valerian (25762), Diocletian (30405), and Maximinus Daia (31012). The meletian schism arose when Meletius, Bishop of Lycopolis, performed ordinations in Alexandria although it was not his diocese. He was condemned at a council at Alexandria in 306.

Heresies. Much of the ecclesiastical history of Alexandria was concerned with the conflicts caused by the heresies of arianism, nestorianism, eutychianism, and monophysitism. Arius, a parish priest of the city, began his heretical teaching about 319, and after disputes with alexander, patriarch of alexandria, he was excommunicated by a local synod (321) and left the city. The opposition to Arianism was vigorously led by (Saint) athanasius of alexandria, who, succeeding Alexander, served as bishop from 328 to 373, with several intervals when he was driven into exile or had to flee for safety. A council was called in 362 to deliberate on the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and two councils in 363 and 364 formulated definitions of the faith addressed to the Emperor Jovian. An anti-Arian council met in 370. Bishop theophilus of alexandria (385412) led a campaign against paganism that included the destruction (389) of the temple of Serapis, one of the most venerated pagan shrines. In 415 Hypatia, a noted pagan teacher of classical philosophy, was killed by a Christian mob. synesius of cyrene, later bishop of Ptolemais (c. 410c. 414), was one of her pupils before his conversion to Christianity.

The next important chapter in Alexandrian Church history was the patriarchate of Saint Cyril (412444), who led the fight against Nestorianism. Nestorius's teaching was rejected by a council at Alexandria in 430, and Cyril presided at the Council of Ephesus (431), where Nestorianism was condemned. This condemnation caused a breach between Antioch and Alexandria, which was healed on the basis of a council at Antioch (432).

Out of the controversy over Nestorianism grew the heretical doctrine of Eutyches concerning the nature of Christ (448), which was the real beginning of the Monophysite heresy. At the Council of Chalcedon (451) dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria, was deposed for his support of Eutyches, and his condemnation was followed by rioting and bloodshed in Alexandria. The Monophysite teaching found strong support in Alexandria and the rest of Egypt, as it did in Syria. To the ancient ecclesiastical rivalry between the sees of Alexandria and Constantinople was added the theological antagonism of the Egyptians to the orthodox leaders who represented the Byzantine imperial government and were dispatched from Constantinople to impose official orthodoxy on the Alexandrian Church. Further friction arose out of the racial aversion of Upper Egypt to the Greek culture of Alexandria and out of the ancient nationalistic sentiment of the Egyptian people, who had long been subjected to foreign domination. There were protracted disorders in Alexandria, and the anti-Byzantine kept control of the local Church by violent means, especially under the Coptic Patriarchs Timothy "the Cat" (45777) and Peter "the Stammerer" (47790). The Orthodox Emperor Justinian (527565), intent on restoring peace in the empire, supported the Orthodox patriarch in Alexandria by force, and the orthodox patriarchs had to be protected by imperial troops. The result of this prolonged experience was that Egypt, like Jacobite Syria, developed well-recognized separatist tendencies; and when the Arabs invaded Egypt (648), they were welcomed as prospectively less oppressive than the hated Byzantine emperor.

A celebrated figure in the Church at Alexandria at this time was the Patriarch (Saint) john the almsgiver, noted for the simplicity of his personal life and for his extensive charities, which he supported from the profits of the patriarchate's properties and commercial activities, notably, the cargo fleet owned by the Church.

The final years of the local Church before the Arab conquest were troubled by the heresy of monothelitism, which recognized the existence of only one will in Christ. A Monothelite council was held in the city in 633. In 828 some Venetian merchants, visiting Alexandria, secretly carried off the body of St. Mark to Venice.

Theological School. The museum and library had attracted leading classical scholars, and the Christian theologians of Alexandria were naturally influenced by the local pagan scholarly tradition. Philo Judaeus (d. c. a.d. 50) conceived an effort to harmonize Greek philosophy and the Old Testament with a philosophical mysticism that strongly influenced Alexandrian theology. His method of allegorical exegesis of the Bible spread to Christian theological schools elsewhere. Christian thought in Alexandria was strongly influenced also by the Platonic tradition. Clement, Origen, and their colleagues adapted the

Platonic tradition and the allegorical method to Christian thought. The contribution of Alexandria to the development of systematic theology was also important; Origen's De principiis was the first systematic exposition of Christian doctrine. Alexandrian thought differed from Antiochene theology, which was Aristotelian, pragmatic, and critical. Similarly, Biblical exegesis at Alexandria was allegorical and mystical, while that at Antioch was historical and literal. Platonic dualism was reflected in the emphasis upon the transcendence of God and the divinity of Christ in Alexandrian teaching. This was the basis of Alexandrian controversies with antioch, where the humanity of Christ was stressed. Thus Athanasius was the Alexandrian champion of orthodoxy against the Arian teaching, favored at Antioch, that the Son of God was a creature. The same perspective was the basis of the opposition of Cyril to the doctrine of Nestorius of Antioch that there were separate divine and human persons in Christ. The extreme form of the Alexandrian tendency resulted in Monophysitism, which maintained that there was only one, divine, nature in Christ. One of the distinguished Alexandrian scholars of the early 5th century was john philoponus, typical of his time in working simultaneously as theologian, commentator on Aristotle, and grammarian.

Art and Archeology. Hellenistic Alexandria, with its wealthy and cultivated atmosphere, developed a distinctive artistic style of its own that reflected the sophisticated and cosmopolitan character of the city. The artistic tradition of classical Greece served as the basis for the new Alexandrian manner, but the Alexandrian artists, with a realism unknown in classical Greece, sought to emphasize the individuality of their subjects.

When Christian art appeared in Alexandria, the Christian artists naturally worked in the local style. The earliest preserved Christian monuments in the city are the frescoes in the catacomb of Karmuz, painted in a characteristic style that was carried to Rome and used in the catacombs there. In Egypt and Italy in the early centuries Christ was portrayed as a youthful Hermes, with short curly hair; the bearded oriental type emerged later in Syria and Palestine. The illustrated Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes is a typical example of Alexandrian theology and art of the 6th century. The Christian artists of Alexandria, like their pagan predecessors, produced elegant textiles, glass, gold and silver work, and ivory carving, which they exported throughout the ancient world. There was always opposition between the Hellenic artistic tradition of Alexandria itself and the indigenous coptic art of the rest of Egypt, which represented a totally different artistic tradition.

Bibliography: h. a. musurillo, ed., The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs: Acta Alexandrinorum (London 1954). c. bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria (2d ed. London 1913). r. b. tollinton, Alexandrine Teaching on the Universe (New York 1932). e. molland, The Conception of the Gospel in the Alexandrian Theology (Oslo 1938). r. v. sellers, Two Ancient Christologies (London 1940). e. r. hardy, Christian Egypt: Church and People (London 1952). j. maspero, Histoire des patriarches d'Alexandrie (Paris 1923). c. r. morey, Early Christian Art (2d ed. Princeton 1953). e. a. parsons, The Alexandrian Library (New York 1952). g. downey, "Coptic Culture in the Byzantine World," Greek and Byzantine Studies 1.2 (1958) 11935. h. i. bell, Cults and Creeds in Graeco-Roman Egypt (Liverpool 1953).

[g. downey/eds.]


views updated May 21 2018


Egypt's second largest city and main port.

Modern Alexandria stands on the site of the ancient city of the same name, founded by Alexander the Great in 331 b.c.e. It is located on a narrow spit of land with the Mediterranean Sea to the north and Lake Mariut to the south. The climate is temperate and averages 45°F during the winter months. Summer weather, although not as hot as in Cairo, is significantly affected by seaborne humidity and reaches 90°F.

Alexander the Great's general Ptolemy I made the new port city his capital, and his Greek-speaking dynasty ruled until Cleopatra VII's suicide in 30 b.c.e. as Octavian's Romans invaded the country. Famed for its lighthouse, museum (primarily a research institute), and library, Hellenistic Alexandria continued as a great Mediterranean center of commerce and learning through Roman times. Eratosthenes, Euclid, and Claudius Ptolemy were among its mathematical and scientific luminaries, and Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollonius stood out as Greek poets. Alexandria declined in importance under Islamic rule as Egypt's center of gravity returned inland to the Cairo area, where it remains today.

Contemporary Alexandria is the site of oil refineries, food-processing plants, and car-assembly works. The port is the main point of export for cotton and other agricultural products and is one of Egypt's major venues for imports. Because of its significance to the commercial activity of the city, the harbor underwent major expansions in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Its size and position made it the headquarters of the British Royal Navy's Mediterranean squadron until the end of World War II.

The history of modern Alexandria begins in 1798 when the French occupied it until 1801 as part of Napoléon Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign. By then the city's population had shrunk to under 10,000. Alexandria experienced a remarkable revival in the early nineteenth century when Muhammad Ali connected it to the Nile River by the Mahmudiyya Canal, dredged its long-neglected harbor, and made it the site of his naval building program and arsenal. By 1824, because of Muhammad Ali's agricultural policies, Egypt was experiencing the first of two significant cotton exporting booms. Both booms led to the arrival of numerous European entrepreneurs involved with cotton, a combination that was to govern Alexandria's commercial and political fortunes until the advent of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Suez Crisis of October 1956.

During the U.S. Civil War and the ensuing Union naval blockade of the Confederacy, Alexandria experienced a resurgence of its commercial and urban fortunes as well as a population explosion, reaching more than 180,000 inhabitants. With the
disappearance of cotton from the southern United States, Europeanespecially Britishmills turned to Egypt as the closest source of acceptable cotton. This in turn led to feverish economic activity aimed at improving agriculture and increasing urban development, manufacturing, and transport, and culminated in the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The Egyptian viceroy had embarked on an ambitious program of modernization, heavily indebting his country to Europe. European financiers and entrepreneurs settled in Alexandria, transforming it from a marginal seaside town into the major entrepôt of the eastern Mediterranean. The seaport also became the financial and political center of the country while Cairo remained the political capital of Egypt. By World War I, Alexandria's population had grown to nearly half a million and had reached a million when King Farouk abdicated in 1952.

Unable to repay or service its debt, in 1876 Egypt came under the supervision of Anglo-French financial advisers. This helped fuel a nationalist reaction that culminated in the revolt led by Ahmad Urabi. In 1882 the British bombarded and then occupied Alexandria in order to crush the nationalist insurrection. The town was then rebuilt along European lines with clearly demarcated areas for business, industry, and residence. The new city grew into nearly separate European and indigenous sections reflecting, like much colonial urbanism, the demographic dichotomies of its population.

Thus from the middle of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century, Alexandria was home to a polyglot population representing the Mediterranean littoral and comprising different national, ethnocultural, and religious backgrounds. The Greeks were the most numerous of the European communities, followed in number by Italians, British subjects (many of whom were actually Maltese), and Frenchmen. Poet Constantine Cavafy stood out in the vigorous Greek cultural scene; British residents gathered at the Sporting Club and in 1901 imported the English public school model for Victoria College. Today Alexandria still presents a unique mixture of architectural styles, blending Venetian rococo, turn-of-the-century Beaux Arts, Bauhaus, Mediterranean stucco, and, more recently, postmodernist high-tech, although it lacks Cairo's rich Islamic architectural heritage.

Extensive beaches and the moderate summer climate turned the city into a seaside resort where the well-to-do and a growing middle class escaped the heat of the interior. Raʾs al-Tin and especially al-Muntaza Palace became the royal family's summer residences. In 1934 the construction of the fourteen-mile-long Corniche along the city's coast began.

The vast and disproportionate wealth and commercial influence of Egypt's foreign population was still particularly glaring in Alexandria when Nasser's Free Officers seized control in 1952. It was no coincidence that Nasser chose Alexandria, that most European of Egypt's cities, to deliver a speech in July 1956 announcing the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company. The Suez Crisis, the ensuing ArabIsrael War of 1956, and expropriation of foreign-owned property and businesses led to a mass exodus of Alexandria's foreign residents in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Those developments also encouraged Nasser to Arabize and Egyptianize the city's ethos.

Until the 1960s Pompey's Pillar (actually dating from the reign of Diocletian), the Roman-era Kom al-Shuqafa catacombs, the Mamluk Qaitbay Fort, and the Greco-Roman Museum attracted cursory attention from Western tourists passing on their way to the richer antiquities of the interior. The shift from steamship to air travel, however, put Alexandria off the beaten path as Western tourists flew directly into Cairo. This often reduced Alexandria to an optional day trip from Cairo for Westerners on a nostalgic quest for the lost (and highly imaginary) city of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. The UNESCO-sponsored Bibliotheca Alexandrina opened in 2002, an attempt by the city to regain something of its cosmopolitan glitter by invoking the glories of ancient Alexandria. With perhaps five million people today, greater Alexandria sprawls westward toward El Alamein and Marsa Matruh, with beachside resorts devouring the once pristine desert coastline.

see also arabisrael war (1956); free officers, egypt; nasser, gamal abdel; suez canal; suez crisis (19561957); victoria college.


Aciman, André. Out of Egypt: A Memoir. New York: River-head Books, 1995.

Forster, E. M. Alexandria: A History and a Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Owen, E. R. J. Cotton and the Egyptian Economy, 18201914. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Reimer, Michael J. Colonial Bridgehead: Government and Society in Alexandria, 18071882. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997.

Jean-Marc R. Oppenheim

Updated by Donald Malcolm Reid


views updated May 08 2018


ALEXANDRIA, a city in Virginia on the Potomac River, below Washington, D.C., was an important trading center until early in the nineteenth century, particularly as a tobacco warehousing and deep-sea shipping port. First settled in 1695, it was established as a town in 1749 on an original grant of 6,000 acres awarded in 1669. For nearly a century, the Alexander family had owned the site. It lay on the main stage route, the King's Highway, which ran southward into Virginia. Gen. Edward Braddock departed from there on his fatal expedition in 1755. The Fairfax Resolves were signed in Alexandria, 18 July 1774. Alexandria was incorporated in 1779. From 1791 to 1847, the city was under federal jurisdiction as part of the District of Columbia. Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807 destroyed its tobacco trade. During the American Civil War, Union troops occupied it. Alexandria was the home of many prominent Virginia families. Alexandria's population greatly increased in the twentieth century and reached 128,283 in 2000. It has become an affluent and largely residential city noted for its colonial architecture. Many corporations in diverse fields, such as Time-Life, Inc., and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), have chosen to make Alexandria their headquarters.


Dabney, Virginius. Virginia: The New Dominion. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983.

Hurst, Harold W. Alexandria on the Potomac: The Portrait of an Antebellum Community. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1991.

Kolp, John Gilman. Gentlemen and Freeholders: Electoral Politics in Colonial Virginia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

EthelArmes/a. e.

See alsoBraddock's Expedition ; Potomac River ; Red River Campaign ; Virginia ; Washington, D.C .


views updated May 17 2018

Alexandria Chief port and second largest city of Egypt, situated on the w extremity of the Nile delta. Founded by Alexander the Great in 332 bc, it became a great centre of Greek (and Jewish) culture. An offshore island housed the 3rd-century bc Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and the city contained a great library (founded by Ptolemy I, and said to contain 700,000 volumes). Today, it is a deep-water port handling more than 75% of Egypt's trade. Alexandria is the Middle East headquarters for the World Health Organization (WHO). Industries: oil refining, cotton textiles, plastics, paper. Pop. (1996) 3,328,196.


views updated May 21 2018

Alexandria. City in Egypt, notable in Christian tradition (stemming, traditionally, from St Mark) for its catechetical school in the 2nd and 3rd cents. and in the 4th and 5th cents. especially for the ‘Alexandrian theology’ represented by Origen, Athanasius, and Cyril.

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