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Alexandria, Egypt: City of Legend

The lands conquered by Alexander the Great
Who am I?
You leap into the air, neighing and braying wildly. Flames of fire seem to burst from the whites of your large eyes, and your lips smack wildly between loud snorts. You stamp once and shake your head at the young man trying to catch hold of your reins. You neigh at the black spirit on the ground that has no shape or form, and continues to flitter about. The young man comes up to you and whispers in your ear, "Don't worry about that black thing, it's only your shadow," but you grunt, then rise up on your haunches, swinging your powerful forelegs into the air. The young man yells back to his father, "He's just afraid of his shadow, Dad! I'll win this bet! I can tame this horse, and you'll have to buy it for me!" The older man, called Philip, waves to the young man, who continues to pat your sides and whisper to you. "Come with me, horse," he says, and leads you into the bright sunlight, where the black spirit on the ground disappears behind you. Your flowing mane trails out in the whipping wind, and the air, filled with the scent of the ocean, invigorates you. You neigh once, and then again. The young man pats your back and asks you the inevitable question between horse and rider..... and you agree. He clambers up happily, and struggles to balance on your wide back, now shiny with sweat. "I'll name you Bucephalus, the Ox-head," says the young man. "And you will be my faithful companion," he whispers, and rubs your long neck.

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Emperor of the known world at 20. Sounds good, eh?
Who am I?
A Macedonian by birth, you live from 356-323 BC. As a youth of 13, you first meet the great philosopher Aristotle, student of Plato, who tutors you for three years and encourages your natural inclination to respect the arts: music, theatre, dance. He also teaches you philosophy. You ride cavalry with your faithful horse Bucephalus in your father Philip's wars throughout Greece. You help your father build a powerful Macedonian empire throughout the Mediterranean. When you are 20 years old, a treacherous nobleman assassinates your father. You are crowned king. Now, you are intent on controlling all the known world. You march into Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) in 334 BC. You proudly lead 40,000 soldiers with the intent of dominating all of the Persian Empire. You almost succeed. You conquer the lands of Syria, Palestine, Egypt. You continue forth, as far as northern India, and your success earns you the title The Great. "Alexander the Great," they call you, or "Iskander al-Akbar." You marry the Bactrian princess Roxane, and continue with your quest for power. However, your soldiers tire. Losing strength and willpower, your soldiers force you backwards in the year 324 BC. You wait in Mesopotamia for a better moment to arise -- one more in favor with your destiny. But suddenly, you fall ill. You die at the age of 33 in Babylon (modern-day Iraq). Many mourn your passing.

Who am I?
You start out as Pharos, a fishing island off the coast of Egypt, closely connected to the Nile River by a canal. A king called "Alexander" comes to your shores. Legends say the poet Homer (who wrote the saga The Odyssey) appeared to Alexander in a dream, telling him to build a city here and name it after himself. Alexander commissions an architect, Dinocrates of Rhodes, to do so.

Vocabulary Box

Haunches - hips, hindquarters
Cavalry - military unit that fights on horseback
Asp - poisonous snake
Expatriate - someone who lives outside his or her home country

When Alexander dies, Ptolemy wins rule of you, and makes you, Alexandria, his capital city. You are a good port of the Mediterranean Sea. Under Ptolemy's successors and at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, you thrive. You are famous for your Great Library, with half a million books, and your towering Lighthouse, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. You grow in power, wealth, and size: intellectuals and artists make you their home.

The seventh and last ruler of the Ptolemy line, Cleopatra, has a child with the Roman Julius Caesar, and then has a long love affair with Mark Antony, who is to succeed Caesar as leader of the Roman Empire. [Link to Kavi's dispatch] However, Octavian declares himself Augustus, Emperor of Rome, then starts to march towards Egypt. Legend will have it that, rather than surrender to the Romans, Cleopatra commits suicide by letting an asp bite her. Romans then govern you.

Christianity comes to you in the middle of the first century AD, in the form of St. Mark the Evangelist. Many of the original ideas about Christian theology arise within your city walls. The Arabs led by Amr ibn el As arrive on your shores in 641 AD, on their way to conquering the rest of North Africa, and even Spain. El As turns his back on you, though, and builds Fustat, further down the Nile, which grows to become the new capitol of Cairo.

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The still impressive work of Dinocrates
By the 15th century, you have shrunk... your centers of learning have disappeared or been destroyed. Only parts remain, like the Serapeum. Napoleon Bonaparte arrives in 1798 in search of new land to conquer, but British troops scurry him away. In 1805, a new Pasha comes to power, a Turk named Mohammed Ali, and under his direction, you start to grow again in power, culture, and intellect.

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Alexandria, 1999
In 1999, when the Odyssey visits, you are Egypt's leading port and an important part of the Mediterranean. "The best way to know Alexandria is to wander aimlessly," wrote E.M. Forster, an expatriate author who knew you from living here for many years. Alexandria is the city of legend.

Learn more from these links:

Alexandria -
Cleopatra -


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Abeja - A Day in the Life of a Coptic Monk
Jasmine - Coptic Cairo
Kavitha - Egyptian Dynasty Part II
Monica - Meeting of the Minds: The Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organization (AAPSO)
Monica - The Liberation of Women

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