Created by Calliope Limneos – Papakosta Alexandria 13.04.2020
“The Genius of Alexander the Great still protects the city of Alexandria from pandemic disease”
During these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic that humanity is currently facing all over the world, we can receive important feedback by observing and studying the statistics and reasons of the spread of the pandemic. This article will study the case of the city of Alexandria in Egypt, not in terms of medical science but from a historical and archaeological point of view.
This city of Egypt located in the west side of the Delta of the Nile River, is the second capital and the 17th largest city in size of the country. To continue, the size of the modern Alexandria is 2679 square kilometres and has a population of5,365,000 people. On another note, according to the statistics announced on the 31st of March, there were 82 cases ofCOVID-19 in Alexandria. However, these incidents appeared in the suburbs of the city; not in the city center.
As per the historical records of Alexandria, it is worth mentioning that there has not been any serious plague that affected the city for many centuries. Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, probably on the 20th of January in 331 BC, at an isthmus between the sea and lake Mareotis , which was connected by a canal to the river Nile. This strategic choice of the site proves the genius of Alexander for many historical and topographical reasons. On that note, Alexander himself marked the circuit wall, which was 15 kilometres long, the city center, as well as the locations of the temples dedicated to Isis and to the Greek Gods.
Furthermore, he also gave instructions to his famous architect Dinokrates in regards to the planning of the street grid. This grid was designed so perfectly, intersected horizontally and vertically, in such a way that the north-western winds coming from the Mediterranean Sea would enter into the city to enable an efficient airflow and therefore achieve a natural ventilation system that would succeed in maintaining a cool and clean ambiance. There are two ancient authors that describe this important construction planning of the streets of Ancient Alexandria, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. Diodorus 17,52 comments: “He laid out the site and traced the streets skilfully and ordered that thecity should be called after him, Alexandria. It was conveniently situated near the harbour of Pharos and by selecting the right angle of the streets, Alexander made the city breathe with the etesian (north-western winds of summer) winds, so that as these blow across a great expanse of sea, they cool the air of the town and so he provided its inhabitants with a moderate climate and good health.” Strabo 17,793 describes : “… both into the harbour on the sea and into that on the lake, thesalubrity of the air is also worthy of remark. And this likewise results from the fact that the land is washed by water on both sides and because of the timelines of the Nile’s risings; for the other cities that are situated on lakes have heavy and stifling air in the heats of the summer, because the lakes then become marshy along their edges because of the evaporation caused by the sun’s rays and accordingly when so much fifth-laden moisture rise, the air inhaled is noisome and starts pestilential diseases, whereas at Alexandria, at the beginning of the summer the Nile, being full, fills the lak also, and leaves no marshy matter to corrupt the rising vapours. At that time, also the Etesian winds blow from the north and from a vast sea, so that the Alexandrians pass their time most pleasantly in summer.”
It is important to point out that even today, the streets of Alexandria have more or less the same topographical direction of the ancient ones. Examples include Soter street, Shampolion street, Nabi Daniel street, etc. Thus, the centre of modern Alexandria is located in the area of the ancient Hellenistic city. During these difficult days of COVID-19 and after a lot of precautionary measures have been taken, such as curfew, the closing of schools, universities and public services, traffic restrictions, the fact that clean and fresh air from the sea is entering into the streets of Alexandria contributes to the cleanliness of the atmosphere and prevents the expansion diseases. From a historical point of view, therefore, the genius of Alexander in the design of the great city that
still carries his name continues to protect it as its founder and God saviour.
Diodorus Siculus 17,52
Strabo 17, 793
Nicholas Hammond, The Genius of Alexander the Great, London 1997
Margaritis Dimitsas, History of Alexandria, Athens 1995