The novel I’m writing requires at least a workable map of Alexandria during the reign of Cleopatra, a fact made especially clear in chapters such as the one I’m writing now: in it, Cleopatra’s daughter, Selene, walks from the docks of the Great Harbor to the famed Great Library itself. I had thought that my earlier map would be sufficient for such needs, but I’m growing more and more concerned that it’s not. I think it has the Library, the mausoleum of Alexander the Great, and a few other locations in the wrong places.
So I’ve spent the greater part of this evening cobbling together the pages of notes I have on the city’s design — along with, oh, about ten Firefox tabs — and overlaying all the information onto an image from the enormously useful Google Earth.
It’s tough. Of ancient Alexandria we have only two points of certain reference on land. The first is Saad Zaghloul, a small public park where Cleopatra’s Needles once stood (they’re now in London and New York). These needles once stood in front of the Caesareum. The second is the misnamed Pompey’s Column, on the opposite side of the ancient city. This marks the site of the Serapeum, a large temple to Serapis in Cleopatra’s day. And that’s pretty much it. We have good reason to think that two of the main streets in modern Alexandria more or less follow the course of the two biggest streets in the ancient city, but even that doesn’t tell us much.
I really enjoy detective work like this. Was Alexander’s tomb beneath the mosque of Nebi Daniel? Or near the Attarine mosque? Or was it where St. Mark’s is now? Or somewhere else — closer to the royal palaces on the Lochian peninsula, perhaps? And what of the Great Library? It’s long thought to have been near Alexander’s mausoleum, but in 2004 archaeologists uncovered lecture halls up near Lochias (near where the modern Alexandrian Library is located).
Sigh. This sort of thing is a hell of a lot of fun, even it’s very often frustrating.
All for a good cause, though. All for a good cause. Selene needs to know where she’s walking, after all.