Al-Ahram Weekly Online   12 - 18 March 2009
Issue No. 938
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


By Mohamed El-Hebeishy

THE GLAMOROUS coastal city of Alexandria never stops amazing us, as Mohamed El-Hebeishy finds out.

The Romans cherished art, and it is said that in every Roman city or town there was at least one amphitheatre. By definition, an amphitheatre is an open-air theatre that hosts theatrical performances, sports or shows.

When Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, finally fell to the hands of the Arab army, after a tormenting 14-month siege in 640 AD, the leading commander Amr Ibn Al-Aas wrote to the Muslim Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab to inform him of the good news. In his message, he stressed the fact that among the city's establishments were about 400 Roman theatres and places of entertainment. Unfortunately, time and negligence have all but obliterated these 400 plus venues.

Today, only one Roman amphitheatre is known to exist in Alexandria. The once fascinating Roman Amphitheatre is located in Kom Al-Dikka. It is a medium-size theatre which in its heyday could seat up to 800 spectators. It took a few centuries after the Arab invasion for this treasure to be unearthed. In the 1960s, workers digging the foundation for a new building stumbled upon the archaeological treasure.

When will we stumble across the next Roman amphitheatre? There could possibly be another 399 to go.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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