Alexandria: The Greatest City Review: The Thinking Man’s Paradise

March 23, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

ALEXANDRIA: THE GREATEST CITY: Wednesday 24th March, More 4, 9pm ALERT ME

Imagine a world where knowledge was prized above anything else, where the pursuit of learning rather than material possessions was the ultimate goal. Such a place used to exist – ancient Alexandria in Egypt, the crown jewel of Alexander The Great’s empire.

Historian Bettany Hughes argues in this documentary why it could be considered the greatest city in the world. It’s existed for more 2,300 years but modern Alexandria is nothing like the city of antiquity; most of it is underground and the new city looks like pretty much any metropolis you’d care to name.

Alexandria was truly a remarkable place – founded by Alexander The Great in 332BC when he invaded Egypt and overcame the Persians, it was build as a haven for knowledge.

It’s one of the newer towns that were established from that period – a new town that had to establish its legitimacy amongst many older, more prosperous ones. Shame the same can’t be said about British new towns. Stevenage anyone? Is Milton Keynes world renowned for its culturally significant roundabouts?

As it was built in Egypt but founded by a Greek, it was a mishmash of cultural values and ideas and an intellectual melting pot. In fact, such was their bibliophilia that they built The Great Library – an attempt to possess a copy of every text ever written – laws were even passed so that ships arriving in the harbour would be searched for any new texts to add to the collection. The Alexandrians were the most aggressive book dealers in history – take that Dylan Moran.

Bettany Hughes’s enthusiasm transforms what could have been quite a dry subject into a genuinely persuasive and interesting tribute to clearly one of the most important cities of the ancient world. She’s particularly struck by Hypatia, one of the first women of mathematics; in a society ruled by men, she had power and influence in Alexandria because of her genius.

It’s just sad that this all had to end and like a bad penny, religious and political meddling brought about Alexandria’s downfall. For hundreds of years, Pagans and Christians had lived together peacefully. But with the rise of a new fundamentalist Christian pope, Cyril, who wanted to turn Alexandria into a theocracy, Hypatia was hounded by a Christian mob who stripped her naked in the street and flayed her alive as a witch.

It marked the beginning of the end for Alexandria, it’s downfall from intellectual paradise began from there – it just goes to show what happens when the stupid and reactionary are given power, which has some poignant real world parallels. Let’s just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, “Education, education, education? indeed…

Samah says:

I think the narrator of the movie over-exaggerated a lot, especially when it came to talking about Alexander the Great. Overall, I would give the movie a 2 and a 1/2-star rating. 😒