Alexandria is Egypt’s third-largest city after Cairo and Giza; Africa’s seventh-largest city is also a major economic center. Locals refer to her as the “Bride of the Mediterranean.” Alexandria is the largest city in the Mediterranean, the fourth-largest city in the Arab world, the ninth-largest urban area in Africa, and the 79th largest urban area in the world by population. The city stretches for about 40 kilometers (25 miles) along Egypt’s northern coast along the Mediterranean Sea. Because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez, Alexandria is a popular tourist destination as well as an important industrial center. Alexander the Great founded Alexandria around 331 BC near an Egyptian settlement called Rhacotis (that became the Egyptian quarter of the city). During the reign of the Ptolemaic pharaohs who succeeded Alexander, Alexandria grew rapidly, becoming a major center of Hellenic civilization and eventually replacing Memphis as Egypt’s capital. From the time of Roman and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) rule until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 AD, when a new capital was set up at Fustat (which later became part of Cairo), it was the capital.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, its Great Library (the largest in the ancient world), and the Necropolis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages, were the most famous features of Alexandria. For much of the Hellenistic and late antiquity, Alexandria was the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient Mediterranean. It was once the largest city in the ancient world before being surpassed by Rome. The city was a major center of early Christianity and the seat of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, one of the most important Christian centers in the Eastern Roman Empire. The Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria both claim this ancient heritage in the modern world. By the time the Arabs took over Egypt in 641 AD, the city had been mostly looted, and it had lost its importance. It did not become important again until the modern era.

At the end of the 18th century, Alexandria became a major center for international shipping and one of the most important trading centers in the world. This was because it was easy to travel overland between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and the trade in Egyptian cotton was very profitable.