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His Body Is Believed Buried There : Just One More Chapter in Alexander's Great City

September 12, 1986|Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — The latest Egyptian-Israeli summit meeting is another chapter in the storied life of Alexandria, an ancient port city founded by Alexander the Great and Egypt's unofficial summer capital.

The meeting between President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is the third summit conference to be held in Alexandria between leaders of the Jewish state and the only Arab country at peace with it.

The other meetings were in July, 1979, and August, 1981, and involved the men awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the former enemies together, Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin.

Alexandria is more than 2,000 years old, and evidence of its long history is everywhere:

--In the occasional discovery of ancient Roman tombs by work crews digging foundations for new buildings.

--In the recent discovery off its coast of L'Orient, a scientific research ship for Napoleon that sank in 1805.

--In the assumption by historians that the body of its founder, Alexander the Great, is buried somewhere under the dust.

The young Macedonian general founded and designed the city in 331 BC and made it the capital of his empire as it spread to Asia Minor. He died six years later, and ancient accounts say he was buried at the center of Alexandria, but his tomb has never been found.

Stretching from a long seaside corniche to the fringes of the Sahara, Alexandria attracts an estimated 3 million vacationers annually from throughout Egypt to catch its cool summer breezes.

Population Doubles in Summer

The summer crowds, which double the city's population of 2.3 million, bring traffic jams, chaos and money.

The city retains much of the flavor of a Mediterranean port, with sidewalk cafes and bars that cater to sailors from Greece, Italy and other countries.

In the center of Alexandria, ornate and sometimes rickety old buildings evoke the exotic blend of East and West chronicled in "The Alexandria Quartet," four novels by the British writer Lawrence Durrell.

Trade has been important since the Greek period, when there were two harbors, the Harbor of Safe Return in the west and the Great Harbor in the east.

The ceremonial Ras el Tin presidential palace, the site of Thursday's summit, stands on the western tip of the shoreline, not far from the site of the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Ras el Tin was built by the first of modern Egypt's kings, Mohammed Ali, early in the 19th Century. When King Farouk abdicated to the colonels establishing Egypt's new republic in July, 1952, he sailed from Ras el Tin.

In the city's Manshiya Square, President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced in 1956 the nationalization of the Suez Canal.

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