TRAVEL THERE: HISTORY, JEWELRY AND MORE
Our second day in Alex began with the usual buffet breakfast and a quick cab ride to the Alexandria National Museum. (No adventures this time!)
If you somehow landed in Alex and hadn’t yet figured out that Egypt is a country with very ancient roots, you should visit this museum. It’s not as extensive as the famed Cairo Museum, but it is arranged in such a way that you can get a quick overview of Egypt’s history organized by deities. If you’re just somebody like me that geeks out on history, well then you have even more reasons to spend and hour or so here.
Down in the basement is the Pharaonic section when Egyptians worshiped a pantheon of gods led by Ra, the sun god, and Isis, goddess of marriage, fertility, motherhood, magic, medicine and probably a few other things. The main floor is devoted to the Greek and Roman eras of Egypt, when the Egyptian gods mixed and mingled with other religious traditions. Many of the artifacts have, in fact, been fished out of the sea right there in Alexandria. Our favorite floor was the top floor. There Christianity faced off against Islam in a sort of duel by artifacts.
Like many things in Egypt, if you visit this museum you’ll be on a constant seesaw. One moment you are wowed out of your socks by an item you can’t even believe still exists. Then you won’t be able to see into the next case at all, because the light has burned out. It’s exhilarating, frustrating and totally unique. Gorgeous white marble edifices with spectacular polished black granite floors and dust collecting in the corners. It made me want to shake someone!
At this museum you can take all the pictures you want outside, but you are supposed to pay to take pictures inside. Bill didn’t think he wanted to part with the coin, but once he got inside he couldn’t help taking a few pictures of the beautiful Christian artifacts. They didn’t say anything right away, but when he left, they hit him up for the photography fee. Since we had to pay to take them, I’ll share them with you.
This trip to Egypt was so marvelous from so many standpoints I would be hard-pressed to pick out my favorite thing. However, I can easily tell you the Royal Jewelry Museum is a strong contender for the position. In fact, it is on my short list of favorite museums ever!
We took a taxi from the history museum to this gem of a palace. (Forgive me the pun, I couldn’t resist.) It was immediately apparent this was something completely different from the previous museum. Both buildings were magnificent, but the history museum was past its prime and showing its age. It didn’t look like anyone loved it anymore. The edifice holding the jewelry museum is pristine. It’s well-loved and it shows.
The jewelry museum is in a lovely part of the city, obviously still home to the well-to-do. An impressive rod iron fence guards the one-time palace. The security procedure into the grounds is more than cursory, but it was very polite. This is the museum-less-visited, competing with the well-known Bibliotheca and the official history museum, but I would like to see that change. This is a rare and wonderful experience and if you go to Alexandria you should not miss it! They were glad to have such obvious American tourists entering their facility. So glad in fact they gifted me with a beautiful souvenir guidebook.
If this museum did not hold a single piece of jewelry, I would still say it is one of the best attractions I had ever visited. The palace is just awesome – and I use the word in the traditional sense, not in the way it’s used to describe a hamburger. I walked from room to room wishing I could live there or at least I would have had the opportunity to visit when Fatma Heidar herself called it home. She was a several-times-great granddaughter of Mohammed Ali Pasha the Great. I think she and I could have been great friends.
But there was jewelry, magnificent jewelry, in attractive cases spread throughout the elegant rooms. The house looked as if they had only removed the furniture the day before. It was easy to imagine dignitaries in gorgeous caftans and morning suits wandering around. Among the treasures in the cases were items which once belonged to King Farouk I and his wife, the lovely Queen Farida. Here’s a shot of my very favorite piece stolen from the gifted souvenir guidebook. We saw it, but couldn’t get a good shot.
After a morning and early afternoon of touring, we were hungry. Come back next week and find out what we did about it.