Today, we went to the National Museum of Alexandria and Montaza Palace. The former offered a wide scope on the history of civilization in Alex and in Egypt generally, from the Pharaonic period all the way up to the modern state. This led through Greek , Roman, Coptic, and Islamic periods. The museum is quite nice, set in a 1920s-era Italian-style villa of a wood merchant who sold the building to the American Embassy, then to the Egyptian Government. The collection is extensive, but select; you have none of the overwhelming sense of endless installations from the Cairo Museum, where exhibits literally go on for miles. Instead, there are intimate galleries and well-chosen pieces that tell the narrative of life in Alex from long ago until modern times. I was especially impressed by the underwater archaeological exhibit, with amphorae and sculptures taken from underwater ruins near the harbor. Along with delicate items and small pieces, pictures covered the walls of the many larger artifacts still down in the depths like the face of a 30-foot Ptolemy king or a goddess draped in ancient marble robes.
Lunch was falafel and fool, fava bean mash that tastes like the blue-plate Egyptian cousin of Mexican refried beans (insert “i pity the fool” joke here). We also had 3aish abyad– little round flatbreads, and tahini. Yum yum yum.
Montaza palace is a former summer residence of the Egyptian ruling elite. Now, there are hotels, outdoor banquet venues, a casino, a park and a museum. We explored the harbor and crossed a walkway toward the lighthouse.
The beach was an interesting combination of things:
- It’s public, so you get the average joe-schmoe coming down for his weekend R&R, maybe with family, maybe with friends. I saw people throwing balls, dunking each other in the water, laughing, muscling it out in feats of strength and endurance…There was a lot of convivial, social stuff going on—what you’d expect at a public beach.
- The women, those that I saw at least, were still covered even in the water. Most wore t-shirts and long pants and a headscarf, some wore swimcaps and bodysuits, and some (I was shocked at this) even kept their niqabs on in the water. The niqab is the part that covers the nose and mouth of the wearer. Not only are these women swimming with loads of fabric that could get cumbersome when wet, they are posing a serious drowning hazard to themselves by continuing to cover up. I am all for people doing what they want to do: follow tradition, live according to religious limitations, but I find this horrifying as a woman. I’ll leave the discussion on where the idea of covering up might come from and how I have seen people make their own interpretations for another day, and let me make it clear that I support a woman’s choice regardless of what it is, but I hate to see someone endanger her life for sake of modesty.
Anyway, it was all very pretty.