Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Monday, 27 October 2008

Monday 27 October - Pompey's Pillar and The Catacombs of Kom es-Shoqafa

Whilst waiting in Alexandria for the purpose of our visit - which commenced at 10.30 this evening - we enjoyed the day in the huge city of Alex.

Pompey's Pillar (pictured above), dating from before 200BC, may tower 25 metres above a limestone ridge, but the lofty heights failed to attract Orange's Egyptian partner. So yesterday's message finally went late today when a freak burst of reception was encountered. Who knows when this one will hit the airwaves.

The pillar dominates a well groomed area of antiquity. There isn't much left of the nearby temple of Serapis, but there are the remains of a library and some underground galleries where the sacred Apis bulls were interred. The library was destroyed by Christian mobs in AD391. There are also three sphinxes and a Nilometer to attract the hordes of tourists who arrive by coach rather than by our form of transport - a battered yellow and black cab. The cabs here are truly manic, they make the taxi men of Cairo seem like Sunday afternoon drivers.

It was a good place to spend an hour before wandering through interesting streets to the Catacombs of Kom es-Shoqafa. On the way we passed stalls laden with luscious fruit and veg - the Nile delta is after all the bread basket of Africa.

Looking down a side street, we expected to see thirsty tourists enjoying the ambience of a street café.

The extensive Catacombs (no photography allowed, sorry) were discovered by an unfortunate donkey in 1900. It's a complex on three levels, reached by a spiral staircase past the 35 metre deep shaft (right down to the water table) through solid rock down which bodies were lowered. These catacombs were in fact an extensive burial chamber dating from before 200BC. They are truly magnificent and amazing to wander around. Different chambers house the dead, depending on their social class, with places for relatives to toast the dead from stone couches.

We were still some way from our next target, the waterfront, so we braved another taxi before enjoying a late, enormous and delicious lunch at the 'Fish Market' restaurant, with fine views over the harbour.

Scallops, Grouper and Sea Bream accompanied a salad with a massive array of dips. Easily enough to last until our next meal, which was scheduled for midnight.

Our perambulations concluded with a walk along the waterfront to Fort Qaitbey, a Toytown citadel buffeted by spray. It was built in the 1480s, which may sound like a long time ago, but it was constructed on the site of the Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, which itself was completed in 283BC. The ravages of earthquakes and treasure seekers put paid to the Pharos, but since 1990 divers have found over 2500 stone objects, including the head of Ptolemy and some huge 50-70 ton monoliths that can only have come from the ancient lighthouse.

Then it was back to the hotel for a rest and a read before 'The Main Event', which started at 10.30 pm!

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