Alexandria 1860-1960
The brief life of a cosmopolitan community

Edited by Robert Ilbert and Ilios Yannakakis

17x24cm. 15 b/w photos. 3 maps. 220 pp. Paperback.
ISBN 977 5845 00 9

The authors

Corinne Alexandre-Garner
Lecturer at Université de Paris X and specialist in the work of Lawrence Durrell. Author of numerous articles concerning literature and psychoanalysis.

Edouard el Kharrat
Native of Alexandria, novelist, translator and critic. Three of Kharrat’s novels have appeared in English: Rama and the dragon, City of Saffron and Girls of Alexandria.

Paul Balta
Born in Alexandria, a former journalist with Le Monde and editor with El Pais. Since 1988 Balta has been a director of the Centre d’Etudes de l’Orient Contemporain at the Université de Paris III.

Eglal Errera
Born in Alexandria and now resident in Paris. Errera, a scholar of Arabic and Hebrew, is a writer and sociologist.

Jacques Hassoun
Born in Alexandria, Hassoun is a psychoanalyst and historian of the Jews of Egypt. He has published Juifs du Nil, a novel entitled Alexandries and numerous specialist articles.

Robert Ilbert
Professor at the Université de Provence and the Institut Universitaire de France, where he occupies the chair of Contemporary Mediterranean History.

Anne Le Gall-Kazazian
Historian and graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Author of numerous articles on the construction of Armenian identity, her PhD thesis covered the Armenian community of Egypt, 1863-1930.

Anouchka Lazarev
Graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, assistant lecturer at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Paris. Author of a thesis on the Italian community of Egypt, 1919-1939.

Katerina Trimi
Graduate of the Faculty of Arts, Athens University. Her PhD thesis covered the Greek colony of Alexandria and the educational politics of the community.

Mercedes Volait
Architect and research fellow with the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. Author of L’architecture moderne en Egypte et la revue “al-Imara” as well as numerous other articles.

Ilios Yannakakis
Born in Cairo and now a lecturer in history and international relations at the Université de Lille III.

If Alexandria has become as Lawrence Durrell put it "The capital of memory", if there exists such a thing as the Alexandrian myth, it is because she stood, for the best part of a century, as the symbol of an open Mediterranean unlike the sea of today, sealed along all its coasts by petty nationalism. This openness was not simply cosmopolitanism. Alexandria was neither New York nor Paris. What was important was not the multiplicity of nationalities represented in the town but rather the interaction between it and those various peoples who came from all the different shores of a sea nominally Ottoman but indelibly marked by western imperialism. Alexandria was one of the last places where one could marry individual expansion to liberalism to traditional community ties. As a centre of interaction, Alexandria also had her shady side, her tensions, her crises. The important thing, however, is to grasp the multitude of threads that made the fabric of the town. For, if not a model, then at least she can serve as a reference point in the debate that runs in Europe today over the position of "foreign" communities and their integration or otherwise. From both sides and according to the angle of approach, Alexandria can well serve as a mirror.


International Waters
Robert Ilbert


A certain sense of citizenship
Robert Ilbert
Alexandria taught that a pluralist society could in fact function if based upon the recognition of the autonomy of different groups. The sessions of the municipal council showed that these differences could be managed by emphasising a community of interest.

The city in all its stages, open or closed, as seen through the inhabitants. Minorities organised as communities or 'colonies'. The community as a key to opening the incomparable richness of a life united and divided. The jigsaw puzzle of a happy and helpful sense of citizenship.

The Jews, a community of contrasts
Jacques Hassoun
Craftsmen, joiners, compositors, peddlers, haberdashers, labourers, agents, brokers of all sorts, formed the majority of the Jewish population whose means would place them amongst the so-called 'petit bourgeois'.

To be an Armenian
Anne Le Gall-Kazazian
The integration of Armenians into Alexandria during the period 1900 to 1920 was very much a question of survival, made more urgent by the gradual dissolution of their 'homeland'. Arriving as exiles, they slowly settled in as another layer of a community that was already part of the fabric of the city.

The Greeks : the parikia of Alexandria
Katerina Trimi and Ilios Yannakakis
The 'Parikia' of Alexandria was the most powerful in all Egypt and the largest of all the foreign colonies.... The Greeks were the last to say, "goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing".

Italians, Italianity and fascism
Anouchka Lazarev
An autonomous microcosm regulated according to its own authority, the Italian community or colony of Alexandria was ambiguous, contradictory and proud of its long history in Egypt. After the First World War it was to experience a decline in fortunes and community solidarity contained a certain fear of the future. From 1917, the first calls for help were directed towards the distant motherland. The home state's response to these appeals introduced fascism into an already unstable situation.

How can one say farewell to the memory of a place both unique and many sided? How did the events pile up and demand definitive decisions? Political turmoil, separation and exile crashed in on a now impossible idea, the echoes of which reach us as if from another world.

Paul Balta
Alexandria, 26th July 1956, 7-40pm. Gamal Abdel Nasser addresses a crowd of some 250,00 people. In his speech he explains that economic independence is just as necessary as political independence. Suddenly, with a peal of laughter he announces, "the nationalisation of the International Company of the Suez Maritime Canal".

Farewell Alexandria
Ilios Yannakakis
The communities, coexisting peacefully, the one beside the other, in a spirit of tolerance and openness to the modern world, presented the model of a micro-society implanted on foreign soil. They offered psychological protection and a recognisable religious and linguistic environment..... But, above all, they were centres of culture, in the broadest sense of the word.

The second exodus
Jacques Hassoun
They forget that their memories, as marked as they could be by the bountiful life of this community, only retain vague shades of their true history. Will it be around the burning memory of these fading traces that old Alexandrians will flutter, forgetting that the departure meant, once and for all, a definitive break with the past?

If the Alexandrian myth is, primarily, literary, it is still to this day part of a living and necessary heritage. Though writers are the midwives of the town, have founded and fed its imaginary existence, they who gave it life are in turn possessed by it. This twist of fate forms a link between Cavafy and Ungaretti, Fausta Cialente and Edwar el Kharrat, Egypt and the world, the Mediterranean and literature.

The dream of Alexander and the literary myth
Eglal Errera
In Alexandria itself the legend is cherished. There is not a writer, searching for the poetic world of Durrell or Cavafy, a historian searching for the last traces of ancient Alexandria, nor a freshly landed diplomat, who has not encountered a cicerone ready to guide him through the city he had imagined. No one knows better than an Alexandrian just what the traveller has come looking for and none but he knows how to respond.

Fausta Cialente
Passages selected by Anouchka Lazarev
The novelist Fausta Cialente was born in Cagliari and spent the inter-war period in Alexandria where she was an active antifascist. There, she wrote Cortile a Cleopatra though Alexandria continued to haunt her for many years after. In 1961, Ballata levantina was published in Milan. What follows are extracts from a preface written by Cialente for a re-edition of Cortile 37 years after it was first published in 1936.

Tracks, remains, reminiscences.
Mercedes Volait
Perhaps there also remains from this past era a relative liberty of manner, of comportment, which stands well in the face of the current norms of Egypt's capital where unbending respect for conformity becomes, every day, more restrictive. There is still a taste for the bon mot, the amusing story, and it is even said that they are for sale, like the blackmarket goods, along the Corniche.

The enigma of the Quartet
Corinne Alexandre-Garner
"Five races, five languages, a dozen creeds: five fleets turning through their greasy reflections behind the harbour bar. But there are more than five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish among them."

From Cavafy to Shahine
An interview with Youssef Shahine
"In Alexandria, I believe that one was gentler, more understanding, far from that stupid racism, that absolutely primitive nationalism…. A spirit of … I don't mean cooperation, the word is too small. Love."

My city, sacred and untamed
Edwar el Kharrat
Translated from Arabic by Hala Halim
When the Alexandria where he grew up finally appeared in the writing of Edwar el Kharrat, it was already well past. Only a few short stories are scattered throughout a career built upon a silence of sorts. For long, Edwar el Kharrat had been an author of few words, albeit a prolific translator.

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