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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ashlyn and Laura

This morning we had visits to several major sites in Alexandria. Our first stop was a fascinating subterranean Roman tomb used for the burial rites of many patrons. There is no photography allowed, so instead we begin our pictures with the acropolis site where “Pompey’s Pillar” is located. Ashlyn and Laura ham it up for Will as we wait for entrance. The pillar itself is actually not associated with Pompey but rather with Diocletian who suppressed a rebellion in the area and was honored by the city afterwards. It is supposed that a statue of the emperor stood atop the pillar. The temple of Serapis on the site is preserved in low foundation areas, but also there are the remains of a Nilometer and numerous granite pillars from a colonnade.

"Pompey's" Pillar

Two subterranean areas exist on the acropolis site, the first into which we descended is considered to be “the library” where scrolls were placed in shelved niches in the wall. The water table is so high there now that the humidity was nearly gagging us, and certainly papyri could no longer be stored in this area.

Site of the library

In the catacomb
In the catacomb
In the catacomb

The catacomb next door was carved to hold mummified animals and is very similar to galleries  such as those at Tuna el Gebel and elsewhere. It is of course the spooky long passages with minimal light that enhance the experience, but ultimately one has difficulty understanding the overall complex at the acropolis. The Antiquities service is restoring the are and building a visitor center that will no doubt help the visitor identify what she sees.

Hili at the open air display
Examining inscriptions

After visiting the catacombs and the hill itself, we wandered over where an open air sculpture display is being created. Hili sits to look at the statuary, while Betsy and Ashley bend over several images of Ramesses II, reading the inscriptions to get an idea of where they originated. Most of them appear to refer to Heliopolis, near Cairo, and they may have been brought north at some later date.

Sarah as the head of Ramesses II     Laura as the head of a sphinx


Now here is the JHU student applying herself – times three! The desire to complete the statue and be immortalized at the same time: first Sarah becomes the head of Ramesses II, enthroned in a coronation pose – the greatest pharaoh of them all! Then Laura, transforms the Late Period sphinx into a female form – of which there are many, and she really looks the part. Last but not least is Ashlyn, offering to the gods as the kneeling Ramesses II. They really have learned the statue poses!

Ashlyn as Ramesses II

Lunch at the hotel
The citadel

After lunch in our elegant dining room (again the public rooms here are in amazing contrast to the bathrooms – hope one day that they’ll get that balanced), we head out to visit several Ptolemaic tombs.  These do not allow photos, so again we skip to the citadel out on the harbor entrance. It’s a magnificent site, even in the rain. Margaret and Cassandra, Sarah, Ashlyn, and Laura are hardy souls indeed. But this stop was best remembered for the necklace salesman who tried so hard on the bus. Yasser got his prices down for those who were interested, and Shaina definitely indulged.

Ashlyn, Sarah and Laura
Out in the rain

The new Alexandria Library

The new Alexandria Library
Using the computers at the library

The afternoon ended with a truly interesting tour of the new  Alexandria Library, a beautiful building full of remarkable activities. We were led through and introduced to many facets of the building and its holdings, and then we visited on our own. Not surprisingly, many of the students headed right to the bank of computers to do – what else? – email. Others visited the free art exhibitions. A superb one consisted of drawings and photographs of Alexandria from the medieval through the modern era. We were really sorry to leave.

Evening meeting

The day ended with another meeting in the fancy ballroom. Meredith is bursting with enthusiasm with all that we have seen and done, but the discussion is about understanding Graeco-Roman Egypt along with ancient Egyptian culture. The monuments are indeed so different and the culture of Alexandria was certainly different from other parts of Egypt. Yet only after seeing all of it can the students begin to put it in context.

Meredith at the evening meeting

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