Founded in 331 BC by 25-year-old Alexander the Great, Alexandria (Al Iskendariyya) is the stuff of legend. Its towering Pharos lighthouse, marking the ancient harbour's entrance, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and its Great Library was considered the archive of ancient knowledge. Alas, fate dealt the city a spate of cruel blows. The Pharos collapsed and the Great Library was torched. Part of the ancient city disappeared under the sea and part under the modern city, so there are few visible remains of the glorious past.
The 19th century kick-started a cosmopolitan makeover and renaissance when Alexandria became one of the Mediterranean's key commercial hubs. This revival was cut short in the 1950s by President Nasser's nationalism. Today the imposing modern library of Alexandria sits amid faded remnants of the once-grand seafront Corniche, as a symbol of the city's latest incarnation as Egypt's cultural capital.