Alexandria, back in vogue?

Alexandria seems to be enjoying a mild vogue. This summer it was Mediterranean culture capital, although I haven't heard much about the activities that took place there. 

In its last issue, the magazine Saudi Aramco World has an interesting article about Alexandria's medieval history (although as always the oil company-sponsored-magazine treads carefully and vaunts the city as a peaceful meeting ground of cultures and religions). 

In fact, Alexandria has been both a meeting ground and a battle ground, a true melting pot that at times has boiled over. Sectarian tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians continue to run high there. 

But the period of Alexandria's history that seems to be of the most interest these days is the pre-Islamic one. Youssef Zeidan's "controversial" novel Azazeel is party set in Alexandria in the fifth century B.C., at a time when the city is transitioning from pagan to Christian worship.

The recent movie Agora also deals with this period, and with the famous female mathematician Hypatia (of which little is known besides the fact that she was killed by a Christian mob).

The movie isn't very good. Not because, as one American reviewer wrote: "the film serves as a startlingly shrill attack on Christianity, positioned here largely as a breeding ground for hypocritical sadists who stand in direct opposition to reason and science" (I think rather the review reveals a startlingly naive view of Christianity's history). But because all the characters are one-dimensional. The reconstructions of ancient Alexandria, on the other hand, are quite exciting.  

A movie I'm looking forward to is the next from Ahmad Abdalla (the director of Heliopolis), which was shot in Alexandria and features local musicians and street artists. The movie should be released soon.  

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.