Alexandria (Turk. Iskanderiyeh), a city of Egypt, on the Mediterranean, 112 m. N. W. of Cairo, founded by Alexander the Great after the destruction of Tyre, 332 B. C. Dinocrates or Dinochares was the architect, and the site selected was at the Canopic mouth of the Nile, between the sea and Lake Mareotis. The city was regularly laid out and intersected by two main streets, upward of 100 feet wide, running from N. to S. and from E. to W. respectively. On the island of Pharos a lighthouse of vast height was erected, and this island itself was connected with the mainland by a dike which divided the inner from the outer harbor, and through which vessels could pass by means of movable bridges. The east end of the town was called the Bruchium, and here was the royal palace of the Ptolemies. Under them Alexandria was the great centre to which the trade of Europe and the Mediterranean with Persia and the far east converged. It numbered about 300,000 free inhabitants, of various nationalities, and also became the centre of universal learning. Here the schools of Grecian philosophy, and especially the Plato-nists, flourished. Among its ornaments were its library and the museum, an establishment in which scholars were maintained at public cost.
In Alexandria the Scriptures were first made known to the heathen by the Septuagint version, and here Christianity early took root, although the city soon became the scene of rancorous and unchristian disputation and violence. In no place were religious conflicts more frequent or more sanguinary. It also witnessed much political strife, suffering especially during the struggle of Cleopatra with her brother Ptolemy (CAesar's Alexandrine war). In 30 B. C. it fell permanently under the power of the Romans; and, notwithstanding the removal of many of the most precious works of art to Rome, its greatness continued till the establishment of the seat of empire at Constantinople. From the rise of Constantinople, though still a centre of commerce, Alexandria as a capital began seriously to decline. In A. D. 640 it was taken by the Saracens under Amru, the general of the caliph Omar, and in 960 Cairo was founded by the caliphs of the Fatimite dynasty, and made the capital of Egypt. The discovery of the route to India and the East by the Cape of Good Hope completed its decay.
At present the underground cisterns for the preservation of the Nile water are the only perfect relics of the past. - Modern Alexandria is situated on the causeway which once formed the communication between the mainland and the Pharos, and which by constant accumulation of sand and material is now formed into a neck of land. There are two ports, one at the extremity of an extensive roadstead west of the Pharos, in which vessels of the line may lie; the other, the modern port, on the east of the Pharos, is less advantageous. Lake Mareotis was dried up by accumulations of sand, but in 1801 the British army cut through the narrow strip which separated it from the lake of Aboukir, and let in the sea again. Alexandria is fast becoming as populous as it was in the days of antiquity, and looks (1873) rather like an Italian than an oriental city. The ruins of the ancient city and the wretched habitations of the Arabs are no longer as conspicuous as they were formerly. Large streets well paved and lighted with gas are seen in the European quarter, and abound with tine residences. The great promenade of the Mehemet Ali square, formerly the square of the Consuls, is the central and most animated point of the city.
The population was estimated in 1870 at 238,888, including, besides Arabs, Copts, Turks, Persians, Armenians, and Jews, 25,000 Greeks, 20,000 Italians, 15,000 French, 12,000 English Maltese, 12,000 Levantines of miscellaneous European descent, 8,000 Germans and Swiss, 8,000 various foreigners, comprising a number of American officers in the khedive's army and American engineers and missionaries. Railways connect the city with Cairo and the Suez canal and with Ramleh. It is as a place of transit for passengers that Alexandria is most remarkable, the steamers to and from India, the Mediterranean, and the Levant all contributing to the prosperity of the city. In 1869 there were 56,000 passengers in the 2,000 sailing ships, and nearly 80,000 in the 1,000 steamers which entered the port, besides men-of-war.