Voices from Cosmopolitan Alexandria

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Alexandria—The Bibliotheca Alexandrina celebrates on 9 November the book launch of Voices from Cosmopolitan Alexandria: an oral narrative of cosmopolitan Alexandria. Prepared by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina"s Alexandria and Mediterranean Research Center (Alex-Med), the book is funded by the European Union and sponsored by the London Metropolitan University, Euromed Heritage program, and the Voices of the Mediterranean project.

The cosmopolitanism of Alexandria gave it a very special character that made it stand out as the various heritages mixed and mingled within it, creating a culture that was both traditional and neutral. The uniqueness and pervasiveness of the Alexandrian identity is insisted upon by all interviewees, some of whom left the city decades ago. Further, unique character of Alexandria prompts one interviewee to make a distinction between the city itself and the country that contains it, choosing to describe herself to acquaintances as being "From Alexandria. It"s not the same as Egypt." Such is the impact the city had on its inhabitants and visitors as many of the interviewed Alexandrians refuse to refer to their European nationalities, preferring to hold on to their Alexandrian identity.

As a melting pot of various cultures, Alexandria enjoyed a remarkable level of tolerance that is decidedly enviable in the world of today. Voices from Cosmopolitan Alexandria expresses the unity through which this highly diverse society functioned. This unity is emphasized by the men and women of different racial and cultural backgrounds and religions, and who shared their worlds comfortably and pleasantly with one another.

Egyptians, both Copts and Muslims, lived along with the Greeks, Italians, Jewish, French, Armenians, and English without a sense of difference, let alone intolerance. The narrators of Voices from Cosmopolitan Alexandria highlight this aspect of life in Alexandria as one of the most refreshing traits of the Alexandrian character. Alexandria-born Greek singer Demis Roussos credits the diversity in music played on the radio in Alexandria for his early love and comprehension of the art. Egyptian anthropologist takes the analysis of the Alexandrian society to dark, yet amusing, grounds as he recounts the adventures of poor Alexandrian thugs of all backgrounds who, together, raided the cargo trains that carried supplies to British soldiers.

Although it is impossible to fully capture the spirit of a certain place and a certain time (especially the modern golden age of Alexandria), this book comes very close to accomplishing just that task. Voices from Cosmopolitan Alexandria is feast of nostalgia over a time when the great city of Alexandria prospered and was shared by people of dozens of backgrounds and nationalities. Voices from Cosmopolitan Alexandria exudes, throughout, a whimsical warmth that is perfectly Mediterranean and absolutely Alexandrian.


© Bibliotheca Alexandrina