March 24, 2012

Pharos | How and why did the lighthouse and the island disappear ?

How and why did the lighthouse and the island disappear ? 
Strangely enough, the answer appears only in legends. The lighthouse continued to fulfill an important military function after Egypt was conquered by the Islamic armies. As part of a carefully thought out plot, a rumor was circulated during the days of the Christian emperor, Constantinople, that a great hoard of treasure had been hidden beneath the lighthouse. In their lust for the treasure, the Arabs began to dismantle the lighthouse, only to realize halfway through the prodigious task that the rumor had been a ruse. They reconstructed the lighthouse but as they were replacing the mirror-stone, they dropped it from the top of the tower. It broke and was never replaced. The rest of the demolition was completed by nature. During the thirteenth century, the area was hit by a terrible earthquake and what remained of the lighthouse and the island disappeared into the sea. Nevertheless, the Great Lighthouse of Pharos is remembered today in a less tangible, but perhaps more enduring form in the words for “lighthouse” which are “pharos” in English, “phare” in French, and “faro” in Spanish and Italian. But this is the only testament indicating that the greatest lighthouse in the world stood here.

Pharos
On the western point of the harbor, directly opposite Qaitbei, stands the Ras-el-Tin Palace, once the residence of King Farouk, the so-called Last Pharaoh of Egypt. When the revolution was initiated on July 23, 1952, King Farouk was staying in the Montazah Palace, about ten miles to the east of Ras-el-Tin. The drama of the revolution surrounding the king in Alexandria is an extremely human one, and one that I personally find fascinating.

Farouk was roused a little after one o’clock in the morning by a close and loyal friend, and the king immediately began the drive to Ras-el-Tin. Cannon on the Qaitbei Road were already aimed at the palace. The king made a request to both the British and American ambassadors for assistance to put down the coup d’etat, but he received no reply. By this time, General Naguib and Colonel Sadat (now President Sadat) were ready to enter Alexandria. Opinion within the army itself was divided on the question of whether to capture the king and execute him. Nasser, who spearheaded the revolution and who remained behind in Cairo, feared that the execution of the king would trigger a blood bath. With the words “History will sentence him to death,” Nasser sent him into exile and won the approval the people.

Early on the morning of the twenty-sixth, Naguib and Sadat sent a final communique to the king giving him until six o’clock that evening to abdicate and leave the country. His palace surrounded by troops, the king wept openly as he signed his name to the letter of abdication. Then, at 5:45 p.m., dressed in the white uniform of an admiral, he accepted the salute of the guards of honor for the last time. As the national anthem was played, the royal standard was lowered and given to Farouk. The royal yacht, the Mahrousa, which the royal family had previously used for pleasure, stood waiting. Slowly Farouk went on board, followed by the queen, the prince and the three princess (and two hundred pieces of luggage). General Naguib arrived as the yacht weighed anchor and he saluted his former king. Farouk returned his salute. Both remained silent for some time. At last Naguib spoke, “It was you who forced us to do what we have done.” Farouk replied, “I know. You have done what I always intended to do myself.” The meaning of Farouk’s words remains an enigma to this day. Even Naguib could not understand them. The pleasure boat finally began to move and Farouk turned to offer advice to his former general: “Your job will be difficult. It isn’t easy to govern Egypt.”

As the ship went through the harbor, all the boats sounded their sirens in a final salute, and a frigate, the Malik Farouk, sounded a twenty-one-gun salute. It’s hollow echo across the bay was the final concession from Naguib to the departing king. The abdication of Farouk brought to an end the dynasty of Mohammed Ali, which was initiated at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Along Comiche Road, in the opposite direction of Farouk’s final drive from El Montazah to Ras-el-Tin, are the crowded beaches of Stanley, San Stefano, Ramleh, Sidi Bishr and El Mandarah. Halfway along the road is an area called Cleopatra, which is where this famous queen had a palace and a temple. It is now a yachting and fishing club. Most Westerners think of the name Cleopatra as being synonymous with a beautiful woman. In Egypt today, “Cleopatra” is the name of a well-known, locally produced cigarette. Apparently the Egyptians themselves think of Nefertiti as the epitome of beauty. She was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton and was certainly a strikingly beautiful woman. Souvenir shops abound with plates and trays carrying her likeness and ornaments made in the shape of her silhouette. The original bust of Nefertiti was excavated at Tell-el-Amama in central Egypt and is now one of the prized exhibits of the Dahlem Museum in West Berlin.

In both New York and London are obelisks known as Cleopatra’s Needle. In fact these monuments have nothing to do with Cleopatra. They were originally set up at Heliopolis, near present-day Cairo Airport, as monuments to victorious battles during the era of Thothmes III (1504-1450 B.C.). Following the death of Cleopatra, the Romans transferred the obelisks to Alexandria to enhance the beauty of the city, and it was then that each acquired the name Cleopatra’s Needles. The story of Cleopatra, her beauty and majesty, was well known outside Egypt, and thinking these obelisks had some fundamental connection with the queen, they were carried off by American and British expeditions to Egypt in the nineteenth century and set up in New York and London respectively.

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