May 2, 2012

A Guide to Alexandria, c.1000

A Guide to Alexandria, c. 1000
al-Muqaddasi

Al-Iskandariyya (Alexandria) is a delightful town on the shore of the Romaean Sea. Commanded by an impregnable fortress, it is a distinguished city, with a goodly meed of upright and devout people. The drinking water of the inhabitants is derived from the Nile, which reaches them in the season of its flood via an aqueduct, and fills their cisterns. It resembles Syria in climate and customs; rainfall is abundant; and every conceivable type of product is brought together there.

Guide to Alexandria
The countryside round about is splendid, producing excellent fruits and fine grapes. It is a clean town, and their buildings are of the kind of stone suited for maritime construction; it is also a source of marble. It has two mosques. On their cisterns are doors which are secured at night so that thieves may not make their way up through them. The remaining towns here are very well developed; and in the surrounding area grow locust, olives, and almonds, and their cultivated lands are watered by the rain. It is near here that the Nile debouches into the Romaean Sea. It is the city founded by Dhu al-Qamayn (Alexander the Great), and has indeed a remarkable citadel. . . .

The lighthouse in Alexandria has its foundations firmly anchored in a small peninsula, and may be approached by a narrow road. It is firmly set in the rock, and the water rises on the lighthouse on the west side. The same is true of the fortress of the city, except that the lighthouse is on a peninsula on which there are three hundred buildings, to some of which a mounted horseman may go; he may go to all of them using a password. The lighthouse is elevated above all the towns along the shore, and it is said that there used to be a mirror there in which could be seen every ship taking off from the shores of the entire sea. A custodian attends to it every day and night, and as soon as a ship comes into his range of sight, he notifies the commander, who dispatches the birds that go to the shore, that those there may be in a state of readiness.

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