The Rise & Fall of Alexandria, with Philip Mansel

The Ebenezer is proud to welcome one of our most accomplished historians, Philip Mansel

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Alexandria is perhaps the most fascinating city on the Mediterranean, with a history that stretches back to its founder, Alexander the Great. It has witnessed extraordinary changes and is intimately linked with Europe, the Levant, and the East.

Its modern history is no less compelling than its ancient history...

In 1800, Alexandria was a desolate port of 6000 inhabitants. By 1848, the city was transformed into a thriving cosmopolis of 100,000, the Queen of the Mediterranean.

As readers of Olivia Manning's The Levant Trilogy and Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet will know, Alexandria was almost a world of its own. Nations, religions and languages were all intermingled there: Arabs, Greeks, Italians and Armenians; Muslims, Christians and Jews. The educated elite spoke perfect French; their toddlers spoke English with their Scottish nannies, and many received a British public school education at Victoria College, the Eton of Egypt.

Alexandria became the stage for intrigue and court politickings when the court, its ministers and foreign diplomats spent the summer there to escape the heat of Cairo. But the days of this cosmopolitan golden age were numbered. Alexandria is no longer ‘the Queen of the Mediterranean'. Since the ascent of Nasser, and the subsequent evolution of a specifically Egyptian, and Arab, national consciousness, it has become ‘the capital of the Nile Delta’, more Islamic now than Cairo. With the extraordinary current events in Egypt, we wait now for the next chapter in its complex and colourful history.

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Philip Mansel

Philip is a historian of France and the Ottoman Empire. His latest book Levant is the first book in English on the modern history of the great cities of the Levant: Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut. He is editor of The Court Historian, the Journal of the Society for Court Studies and a Fellow of the Institute of Historical Research.


Noel Malcolm - Daily Telegraph: Levant “The strengths of the book are colossal. Philip Mansel’s knowledge of the history and culture of these places is encyclopedic; he has walked their streets, met the scions of their famous families and penetrated their private archives.”

William Dalrymple : The Independent : City of the World's Desire: "An impeccably researched masterpiece of exquisite historical writing, without question one of the finest books ever written by an Englishman on the Turks. Not since Runciman put down his pen has the study of the East Mediterranean seen such authoritative history produced with such enviable elegance of diction and such polished richness of descriptive prose. There can be little doubt that this book will become a classic."

2011Martin Keeley