TRAVEL THERE: KOM ASH SHUQQAFA, POMPEY’S PILLAR & THE SERAPEUM
We’d chosen The Cecil Hotel, because it was right on the Mediterranean and right in the middle of most of the things we wanted to see, but from my first bits of research I knew I’d have to get to the neighborhood of Carmous somehow, because it was Ground Zero for the Greeks and Romans in Ancient Alexandria. We scheduled Izzat, our driver to take us there on the way back to Cairo.
Kom Ash Shuqqafa
As I’ve complained about before, researching Egyptian attractions is an exercise in frustration. You get fifteen dozen sites listing various things to see and do, but they all say the same things about them and what they say doesn’t give you much of a hint about what you are actually going to see. The information about Kom Ash Shuqqafa let me know I really needed to see it, but I figured that out more from intuition than actual data.
Part of the problem is that you have a hard time trying to guess what to Google. Arabic words must be spelled phonetically and you have to guess which spelling has the most information. Google is very good about reading your mind – until it comes to spelling, then it goes wacky. Once I’d been to Kom Ash Shuqqagfa, I came home and found this excellent article on Lonely Planet which does a better job than I could describing it, but nothing this clear was available when I was doing my research.
Kom Ash Suqqafa is a catacomb – as in people are buried there, but that information doesn’t prepare you for what you will see. Above ground there’s not much. In the picture above you see some stone burial vaults, but that doesn’t begin to prepare you for the visual feast you’ll see under ground. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the catacombs so I can’t show you all the wonders. The best I can do is tell you to imagine an elaborately carved dining hall and surround it with beautiful private mausoleums.
The entrance to the catacombs is on the backside of a small mound. The disarray and neglect of the surrounding ground could discourage you from entering, but press on. Unfortunately, this is not a site for the physically handicapped. Entry is via a spiral staircase – period. The dead used to arrive by ropes, but no special effort has been made to be accommodating to anyone. The staircase is a bit of a challenge, so be sure to wear study shoes. Once down there, you’ll also need to watch your footing.
We thoroughly enjoyed this site. It was a wonder of Egyptian ingenuity. If you want to go, it’s really off the beaten path and you’ll need to make a special effort, but I encourage anyone headed to Alex to include this site.
Pompey’s Pillar & the Serapeum
This site was also under publicized, but totally worth it. Once you’re there, it’s a little more tourist friendly than the Catacombs. Pompey’s Pillar and the Serapeum are what’s left of an extensive Greek and Roman architectural dig. Sometime ago they built a walkway around the site and added signage to tell you what you are seeing.
Pompey’s Pillar was not actually built by Pompey, but the misnaming stuck. It was built to honor the Roman Emperor Diocletian, but only the historians among us actually care. The Serapeum was the name of a Greek temple of which only a single sphinx remains.
The attraction was a perfect way to end our visit to Alex. A very modern Egyptian neighborhood surrounds the ancient Greek and Roman site. For awhile, these outsiders ruled Egypt, but time defeated them and now the Egyptians have won back their territory. The site is on a hill and from there the view is great.
Enjoy these photos and join me next week for our trip back to Cairo.