The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My first meeting with Alexandria - the "Underworld" of Alexandria Part 1 - Shatby

When I first came to Egypt, prior to meeting John, Alexandria was my main source of information as far as introducing me to the Egyptian culture, its scholarly environment and, of course, its ancient monuments and remains. Alexandria would become my second home thanks to a very generous foundation in Sweden, willing to support me and my research on my path to graduating as a PhD. Being on your own, as a young Swedish doctoral student, in a busy city as Alexandria was a rather remarkable experience initially, to say the least. With the words of recommendation, information and occasional warning I thought that I was prepared for the cultural shock and all the variations of emotions that could spring up from such an initial meeting between me and the ancient land of Kemet. But no, I was not, and looking back at it, I was rather naïve to even believe that anyone could be prepared for a moment in time when all your dreams come true combined with the obvious difference in culture and everyday life customs. I praised the existence of internet many times during my initial stay in Alexandria, holding on to what I considered an important life line to the world of the known and the people I loved. But soon I turned inwards, reminding myself of who I was and why I was in Alexandria, and of all the adventures that life had guided me through already, and I made a decision to stick with my old characteristic persona – stubbornness. I simply adjusted my regular Swedish lifestyle to that of the Alexandrian metropolis, and after a while we came to a rather nice agreement. Time also allowed us to grow together with the help of what became my Alexandrian family, headed by the wonderful and oh so wise prof. Abbadi, and my forever so trusted “sister” Prof. Haggag. With their support and friendship, all things that had me confused initially were made clear and understandable. Now, it must be said that coming to Egypt as a tourist is far different from living in this great country. As always when I travel, I tried to stay away from the traditional touristic sites, as I find it more educating and illuminating to learn the core of the society, whatever that can be…

Anyway, during this, my initial meeting with Alexandria, I made it a routine of each morning taking a morning walk, enjoying the area between Ibrahimeia and Midan Tahrir  prior to the moment when the switch is turned on and the serene sound of Mediterranean waves reaching the shore break off with the never ending car queue. And as I made it into a routine I received a daily smile and greeting by the old men, who always sat in one of the cafés along the Cornish, puffing on their shisha while gossiping with each other. Then, of course, there was the moment each morning when I passed the ancient cemetery of Shatby, which is really the topic of interest and the reason for all this ranting. I would like to share with you some images, and with it some brief information, of the ancient cemeteries still preserved in today’s Alexandria. During my initial two years in Egypt Alexandria became my second home, and even after meeting John and moving to the ancient city of Thebes (modern Luxor), the city of Alexander the Great will forever hold a special place in my heart. So, in a series of blog posts, starting here with Shatby, will follow some photos from some of my (well I should really say our as John too has a weak spot for them) favorite ancient monuments in Alexandria, photographed over a six year period by either John or myself. I hope you will enjoy!
Shatby cemetery:
Just like all cemeteries in Alexandria, Shatby burials have been cut into the natural rock, used by the first generations of Macedonians in Alexandria. Shatby is Alexandria’s oldest Hellenistic cemetery, dating to the 4th century B.C. It was discovered in 1904, east of the ancient Nile canal that led into the Royal Harbour, and close to the Mediterranean coastline, which today causes a continuous water situation to the burial ground as it submerges with the rising of the water table (as seen in the photos). Shatby cemetery, similarly to all other Alexandrian burials, consists of a complex of chambers surrounding an open courtyard. This one had a so called pseudo-peristyle of half columns, a shallow vestibule attached to a corridor. An antechamber opens up to the east, which leads to the main burial chamber.

As you can see in the photographs, these tombs were arranged with a central, so called kline burial, consisting of a rock cut bed or sofa into which the deceased was laid down (one of the main differences between Macedonian kline burials and the Alexandrian is in the physical appearance of these beds/sofas: while the Alexandrian ones are hollow, the Macedonians are flat, thus placing the deceased straight on its top). Similar to other Alexandrian cemeteries Shatby is decorated with Doric (half) columns, and its chambers are decorated with false windows. Although most paint is long gone, it was originally recorded to have sky-blue panels, and an overall decoration which can be compared with the 2nd Pompeian style.

Apart from the main chambers, Shatby consists of a series of loculus burials, symmetrically placed in long and narrow niches cut into the side walls of the chambers or individual rooms, and sealed with a slab, often decorated with the faces of the deceased. Apart from the tombs themselves, Shatby has on natural display a few additional items worthy of a gaze as the photographs show.

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