Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt, lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It was built by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C as Egypt’s new capital. Due to its strategic location on the sea coast, it served as a maritime trade centre and is given the sobriquet:” The Pearl of the Mediterranean”.
Alexandria from ancient times has been a cultural hub, being exposed to Roman, Greek and Arab influence. Since it was a strategic location, many kings and dynasties fought to keep it under their power. The result of these battles proved destructive to the city, but also resulted in the construction of magnificent forts which served as royal palaces built to perfection.
They showcase the magnificent architectural wonders of a bygone era. Thanks to the initiative of the Egyptian government, Alexandria today is a major tourist hub.It is like a Pandora box, once opened, it takes the onlooker on an unforgettable journey of breathtaking castles steeped with sheet beauty and majestically standing tall amidst the passage of time.
A Journey Into The Well Preserved Past
Much of Alexandria was destroyed by an earthquake which sank the city under water.But in spite of this natural calamity, the splendid palaces have stood the test of time and through the years have been renovated and wellpreserved for the world to see. Described below are the unique and breathtaking architectural wonders of Alexandria.
The Venerable Fort Qaitbey
Qaitbey castle, also known as citadel/fort is the oldest castle in Alexandria, was built in 1480 by the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbey. It is situated on the entrance of the eastern harbor of the Pharos Island. This fort was constructed on the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World.
Photo Credit: I-cias.com
A part of the lighthouse is still visible amidst the construction of the fort. The fort served as a defensive stronghold along the Mediterranean Sea coast. Standing atop the fort one can take in the panoramic view of the sea coast and the surrounding neighborhood of winding Alexandrian streets. After the lighthouse was destroyed in an earthquake in 1100 a mosque was built in its place. Inside the fort you can find a mosque whose entry gate is built with red Aswan granite.
Apart from the mosque the other attractions are a cistern, and a naval museum which stores paraphernalia from the Roman and Napoleonic sea battles. This fort was turned into a Maritime Museum after the revolution of 1952. In 1984, Qaitbey palace was converted into an Aquarium and Marine Life Museum.
The Verdant Montaza
Montaza palace grounds, with its beautiful gardens are situated in the Montaza district of Alexandria. It is built on a low plateau and overlooks the beach on the Mediterranean Sea.
Inside Montaza Grounds Are Two Palaces
Royal Hunting Ground- El- Salamlek Palace
The Royal Hunting ground- El- Salamlek Palace built in 1892, by Khedive Abbas –II, the king of Sudan and Egypt. It was his summer residence. This palace was occupied by the Sultan and his companion. It was used as a hunting ground for the royal entourage.
This palace is surrounded by fortified walls and comprised of the Al Haramlik Palace, gardens, parks and other tourist buildings. Extra additions were added to this palace and now it functions as a hotel and a casino, which draws a large number of tourists throughout the year.
The Presidential Palace
This palace was added to the Montaza grounds in 1932, by King Fuad – I. This palace’s architectural style is a mix of Moorish and Italian. The towers which rise one above the other showcase the greatness of Italian Renaissance. The palace has long open arcades which face the sea.
Inside the palace you will find a children’s park, a tourist centre museum and elaborate gardens. Though the main palace is not open to tourists since it serves as the Presidential palace, the other areas around the palace are open to the public. This palace was renovated by Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt and more recently was used by the former president Hosni Mubarak.
The Yellow Stone Ras El Teen Palace
Built with yellow stone it is European in style. This castle was built by Muhammad Ali took 11 years to complete.
This castle is a blend of beauty and perfection and was open to the tourists in 1847.
The Tsar’s Palace- The Cottage Palace
This castle was the permanent residence of Tsar Nicholas and his queen Alexandria. Built in gothic style it was completed in 1829. The interior of the palace is very decorative and showcases the rich and varied tastes of Tsar Nicholas and his wife.. Visitors throng this palace throughout the year.
Apart from these splendid castles which redefine art and architecture, there are also other hidden castles which lie under the sea waiting to be discovered. Recent speculations and archeological excavations also point out the possibility of discovering Cleopatra’s castle.
History is revisited when one is among these castles of Alexandria. The structure and building techniques have baffled historians, but no one can dispute the fact that the Castles of Alexandria, built at a time when technology was not as advanced as now, still endures and allures every traveler with its inherent beauty and perfection.