Where land meets water in a large city, we build homes and offices for the short walk to the beach and the long view of the open sea. It’s a place to turn our backs on all that disturbs us in society.
For Ailsa’s Land Meets Water photo challenge, here’s a photo of Stanley Bay, Alexandria, Egypt in about 1941. The corniche, the road running round the coastline, was constructed in 1935. The descending levels of concrete bathing cabins added on the shoreline form an amphitheatre that looks onto the Mediterranean. Here in 1941 people are bathing in the sun and sea, and, by all appearances, are unafraid. Yet in May, June and December of that year there had been fierce enemy air and sea attacks on Alexandria with hundreds of people killed and injured. In this scene there are bathers on the sand, in the water and on the rocks, as though all is well.
Today Alexandria is not facing the same threats, but the population has multiplied. Modern photos show the corniche lined with high-rise apartment blocks, not as picturesque as those in the 1940s, and with not nearly as much space to roam between buildings. And town planners seem to have had second thoughts about the bathing boxes, which have disappeared. Only the sea remains the same.
In the heart of Alexandria in Egypt, there is a green square running down to the esplanade along the sea. It’s called the Midan Orabi or Orabi Square, or Place Mohamed Ali. At the end of the square is a neo-classical monument donated by the Italian community in 1938 and originally dedicated to Khedive Ismail (‘Khedive’ is a title, like Viceroy). He had studied in Paris and held diplomatic missions in Europe before his appointment as viceroy of Egypt from 1863 – 1879 under the Ottoman suzerainty. He incurred massive foreign debt, borrowing from European financiers, and this mismanagement led to British intervention and the occupation of Egypt in 1882. If this hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have this photo.
My father had this picture in his album of photos taken in 1941/42 when he was there as an Australian defending the British Empire.
Khedive Ismail being remembered for not much more than his hateful administration and the introduction of colonialism, the monument facing the Mediterranean sea, or more specifically, facing Europe, was recycled in 1966 into a monument to an ‘Unknown Naval Soldier’.
Modern photos show Orabi Square still with tall palm trees though at ground level it is now quite cluttered and busy, not neat and open as it was in the 1940s when the area was known as Place Mohamed Ali, or the French Gardens, and it looked like this: