Wikitravel Press has created the official Wikimania 2008 travel guide to Cairo and Alexandria. The guide is licensed under Creative Commons by-sa 1.0, and it's available for your reading and editing pleasure at the Wikitravel website:
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Alexandria was founded by Alexander the great in 332 BC as polytonic|Ἀλεξάνδρεια (Alexándreia). Alexander's chief architect for the project was Dinocrates. Alexandria was intended to supersede Naucratis as a Hellenistic center in Egypt, and to be the link between Greece and the rich Nile Valley. An Egyptian townlet, Rhakotis, already existed on the shore and was a resort filled with fishermen and pirates. A few months after the foundation, Alexander left Egypt for the East and never returned to his city. After Alexander departed, his viceroy, Cleomenes, continued the expansion. In a struggle with the other successors of Alexander, his general Ptolemy succeeded in bringing Alexander's body to Alexandria.
Alexandria, sphinx made of pink granite, Ptolemaic.
Though Cleomenes was mainly in charge of seeing to Alexandria's continuous development, the Heptastadion and the main-land quarters seem to have been mainly Ptolemaic work. Inheriting the trade of ruined Tyre and becoming the center of the new commerce between Europe and the Arabian and Indian East, the city grew in less than a generation to be larger than Carthage. In a century, Alexandria had become the largest city in the world and for some centuries more, was second only to Rome. It became the main Greek city of Egypt, with an extraordinary mix of Greeks from many cities and backgrounds.
Alexandria was not only a center of Hellenism but was also home to the largest Jewish community in the world. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was produced there. The early Ptolemies kept it in order and fostered the development of its museum into the leading Hellenistic centre of learning (Library of Alexandria) but were careful to maintain the distinction of its population's three largest ethnicities: Greek, Jewish, and Egyptian. From this division arose much of the later turbulence, which began to manifest itself under Ptolemy Philopater who reigned from 221–204 BC. The reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon from 144–116 BC was marked by purges and civil warfare.
The city passed formally under Roman jurisdiction in 80 BC, according to the will of Ptolemy Alexander but only after it had been under Roman influence for more than a hundred years. In 115 AD Alexandria was destroyed during the Jewish-Greek civil wars which gave Hadrian and his architect, Decriannus, an opportunity to rebuild it. In 215 AD the emperor Caracalla visited the city and, because of some insulting satires that the inhabitants had directed at him, abruptly commanded his troops to put to death all youths capable of bearing arms. On 21 July 365, Alexandria was devastated by a tsunami (365 Crete earthquake), an event two hundred years later still annually commemorated as "day of horror".
The ancient Roman Amphitheatre in Alexandria
In the late 4th century, persecution of pagans by newly Christian Romans had reached new levels of intensity. In 391, Emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of all pagan temples, and the Patriarch Theophilus, complied with his request. The Brucheum and Jewish quarters were desolate in the 5th century. On the mainland, life seemed to have centered in the vicinity of the Serapeum and Caesareum, both which became Christian churches. The Pharos and Heptastadium quarters, however, remained populous and were left intact.
In 616, Alexandria was taken by Khosrau II, King of Persia. Although the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius recovered it a few years later, in 641 the Arabs, under the general Amr ibn al-As during the Muslim conquest of Egypt, captured it decisively after a siege that lasted fourteen months.
Alexandria figured prominently in the military operations of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798. French troops stormed the city on July 2 1798 and it remained in their hands until the arrival of the British expedition in 1801. The British won a considerable victory over the French at the Battle of Alexandria on March 21 1801, following which they besieged the city which fell to them on 2 September 1801. Mohammed Ali, the Ottoman Governor of Egypt, began rebuilding the city around 1810, and by 1850, Alexandria had returned to something akin to its former glory. In July 1882 the city came under bombardment from British naval forces and was occupied.
In July 1954, the city was a target of an Israeli bombing campaign that later became known as the Lavon Affair. Only a few months later, Alexandria's Manshia Square was the site of the famous, failed assassination attempt on the life of Gamal Abdel Nasser.