Alexandria, Arabic Al-Iskandariyyah, major city and urban muhafza (governorate) in Egypt. Once among the greatest cities of the Mediterranean world and a centre of Hellenic scholarship and science, Alexandria was the capital of Egypt from its founding by Alexander the Great in 332 bce until its surrender to the Arab forces led by ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ in 642 ce. One of Egypt’s largest cities, Alexandria is also its principal seaport and a major industrial centre. The city lies on the Mediterranean Sea at the western edge of the Nile River delta, about 114 miles (183 km) northwest of Cairo in Lower Egypt. Area city, 116 square miles (300 square km).
The modern city extends 25 miles (40 km) east to west along a limestone ridge, 1–2 miles (1.6–3.2 km) wide, that separates the salt lake of Maryūṭ, or Mareotis—now partly drained and cultivated—from the Egyptian mainland. An hourglass-shaped promontory formed by the silting up of a mole (theHeptastadion), which was built soon after Alexandria’s founding, links the island of Pharos with the city centre on the mainland. Its two steeply curving bays form the basins for the Eastern Harbour and the Western Harbour.
Though Arabic-speaking Egyptians represent the vast majority of the city’s population, Alexandria was once home to a polyglot foreign community made up principally of immigrants from other Mediterranean countries, including Greece, Italy, Syria, and France; for this community—and for most educated Egyptians—French was the lingua franca. This community, which represented about one-tenth of the population in 1947, virtually disappeared following the widespread nationalization of industries and services of the Nasser era and the concentration of state investment and administration in Cairo, the capital city. Most Alexandrians, like most Egyptians, are Sunni Muslims; the city’s Christian minority consists mainly of members of the indigenous church of Egypt, the Coptic Orthodox Church.