May 2, 2012

Antiquities of Alexandria Egypt , 1183

Some Features and Antiquities of Alexandria, 1183
Ibn Jubayr

First there is the fine situation of the city, and the speciousness of its buildings. We have never seen a town with broader streets, or higher structures, or one more ancient and beautiful. Its markets also are magnificent. A remarkable thing about the construction of the city is that the buildings below the ground are like those above it and even finer and stronger, because the waters of the Nile wind underground beneath the houses and alleyways. The wells are connected, and flow into each other. We observed many marble columns and slabs of height, amplitude and splendour such as cannot be imagined. You will find in some of the avenues columns that climb up to and choke the skies, and whose purpose and the reason for whose erection none can tell. It was related to us that in ancient times they supported a building reserved for philosophers and the chief men of the day. God knows best, but they seem to be for the purpose of astronomical observations.

Antiquities of Alexandria
One of the greatest wonders that we saw in this city was the lighthouse which Great and Glorious God had erected by the hands of those who were forced by such labour as ‘a sign to those who take warning from examining the fate of others’ [Koran XV, 75] and as a guide to voyagers, for without it they could not find the true course to Alexandria. It can be seen from more than seventy miles, and is of great antiquity. It is most strongly built in all directions and competes with the skies in height. Description of it falls short, the eyes fail to comprehend it, and words are inadequate, so vast is the spectacle.

We measured one of its four sides and found it to be more than fifty arms’ lengths. It is said that in height it is more than one hundred and fifty qamahs [one qamah = a man’s height]. Its interior is an awe-inspiring sight in its amplitude, with stairways and entrances and numerous apartments, so that he who penetrates and wanders through its passages may be lost. In short, words fail to give a conception of it. May God not let it cease to be an affirmation of Islam and preserve it. At its summit is a mosque having the qualities of blessedness, for men are blessed by praying therein. . . . We went up to this blessed mosque and prayed in it. We saw such marvels of construction as cannot faithfully be described.

Amongst the glories of this city, and owing in truth to the Sultan, are the colleges and hostels erected there for students and pious men from other lands. There each may find lodging where he might retreat, and a tutor to teach him the branch of learning he desires, and an allowance to cover all his needs. The care of the Sultan for these strangers from afar extends to the assigning of baths in which they may cleanse themselves when they need, to the setting up of a hospital for the treatment of those of them who are sick, and to the appointment of doctors to attend them. At their disposal are servants charged with ministering to them in the manner prescribed both as regards treatment and sustenance. Persons have also been appointed who may visit those of the strangers who are too modest to come to hospital, and who can thus describe their condition to the doctors, who would then be answerable for their care.

Travelers of earlier generations who had acquired a classical education were far more at ease with the background to many of the sites they visited than many tourists are today. Eliza Fay, though not an educated woman, on her way through Egypt to India, is a good example of someone with such classical knowledge. Dr. Meryon, Lady Hester Stanhope’s doctor, and others saw Alexandria with a more modem eye.

Related Web Search :
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