North Coast

When you hear the term North Coast it mostly refers to the stretch between Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh, but in reality it actually includes the entire northern coast of Egypt all the way to Al ‘Arish in North Sinai.

We are going to use the traditional definition for this part of the guide though.

Map of the North Coast in 2011.

Alexandria (Al Iskandariyyah)

The capital of Egypt since it was built by Alexander the Great in 332 BC and for the next 1000 years until the Muslim conquest in 641 CE. The governorate has a population of 4,187,509 as of 2008, and is one of the most important harbours in Egypt.

View of Alexandria from the Citadel of Qait Bey.

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great; however, a few months after its foundation, Alexander left for the East and Persia and never returned. Following a struggle with the other successors of Alexander, his general Ptolemy succeeded in bringing Alexander’s body to Alexandria. Ptolemy assumed the throne of Egypt and continued with the expansion and development of the city.

Within a generation it had grown larger than Carthage, becoming the centre of the new commerce between Europe and the Arabian and Indian East. Within a century it had become the largest city in the world and for some centuries more, was second only to Rome.

Alexandria was at the centre of some of the greatest events in antiquity as well in modern times; it saw Cleopatra, Julius Caesar captured it in 47 BC during the reign of Cleopatra, later on her and Anthony would die in the same city when war broke off between Octavian and Anthony; Octavian captured Alexandria in 30 BC.

In 365 CE an earthquake in Crete followed by a tsunami devastated Alexandria and the Nile Delta. In 619 CE, Alexandria fell to the Sassanid Persians. Although the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius recovered it in 629 CE, in 641 CE the Muslims under the general Amro Ibn Al-Aas captured it after a siege that lasted fourteen months.

Alexandria was the home of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pharos of Alexandria constructed in 280 BC; it collapsed in an earthquake in 1480 CE. It was also home to the famous Library of Alexandria, it was probably the largest, and certainly the most famous, of the libraries of the ancient world. The ancient library was founded in the beginning of the third century BC, and in 391 CE, Emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of all “pagan” (non-Christian) temples, and the Christian Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria complied with this request.

Alexandria rivals Cairo in the cultural scene, and beats it in the summer for its beaches and great weather. It houses several museums as well as the new Bibliotheca Alexandria. The Montazah Royal Gardens, the Citadel of Qait Bey that was built on the site of the old Lighthouse in 1477 CE, the Roman Catacombs of Kom El-Shoqafa, and downtown Alexandria with its beautiful architecture will transport you straight to Victorian times.

Matrouh

524 km from Cairo and 290 km to the west of Alexandria is Matrouh. It has a population of 322,421 people and is home to some of the most spectacular beaches in the world not just in Egypt.

Agiba beach in Matrouh.

The governorates is one of the largest in terms of area in Egypt if not the largest, most of the area is desert though. The capital of Matrouh – the city of Marsa Matrouh (‘marsa’ means ‘harbuor’ in Arabic) – is known for its white soft sands and calm transparent waters; the bay is protected from the high seas by a series of rocks forming a natural breakwater, with a small opening to allow light vessels in.

The capital has been populated since ancient times and it started out as a small fishing town at the time of Ramses II. Only when the Romans occupied Egypt has this little town become an important harbour for trade and sending goods and crops to Rome.

Matrouh has several gorgeous beaches that are worth the long drive on their own; Ageeba – Wondrous in English – is distinguished by its numerous natural caves and enchanting scenery. 20 km to the west of downtown Marsa Matrouh is Al-Ubayed, its beauty surpasses that of Mersa Matrouh beach. There’s also Cleopatra beach, with it’s amazing rock formations, and Al-Gharam beach (Love’s beach!)

The entire north coast west of Alexandria falls within the boundary of Matrouh, and is full of resorts and hotels all the way to the city of Marsa Matrouh itself; the most famous of which and by far the largest is Marina El-Alamein.

There are many historical sites within Matrouh: the Ruins of the Temple of the King, Pharaoh Rameses II (1200 B.C), Drown city of Caesar, Drown Palace of Cleopatra, Egyptian Fleet Anchorage which was built by the Ptolemies, the remains of the naval installations still stand west of the port, Coptic Chapel: built in the early Coptic age, and contains several caves bearing inscriptions, Rommel’s Hideout: A cave, hewn in the rock, where Rommel drew up plans of his military operations. It has now been turned into a military museum.

The major decisive battle for North Africa during WWII took place in Al-‘Alamein, between the Allies led by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery, and the Axis led by the Desert Fox, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The battle ended in a devastating defeat of the Axis, and paved the way for many more victories for the allies after that. There are several cemeteries in Al-‘Alamein from WWII, a British, Italian, and a German one.

Picture taken from Shaly Island in Siwa, Egypt. Siwa Oasis can be seen in the background.

Matrouh is also home to Siwa Oasis, its fame lies primarily in its ancient role as the home to an oracle of Amon, the ruins of which are a popular tourist attraction which give the oasis its name. Prior to his campaign of conquest in Persia, Alexander the Great reached the oasis, supposedly by following birds across the desert. The oracle, Alexander’s court historians alleged, confirmed him as both a divine personage and the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt.