The Streets of Alexandria

Heritage Days 2017

« A city does not speak of its past, it owns it like lines on a hand, inscribed on street corners. »

Italo Calvino

«  — Taxi, take me to Horreya Street. — You mean Fouad Street or perhaps Gamal Abd el-Nasser Avenue.Yeh, it’s the same thing; it’s also been Rosetta Gate Street. »

Street names change in Alexandria, but the inhabitants of the city often hold onto the old ones, harking back half a century, that are used more readily than the official labels. The street signs bear witness to this history of roads and districts in Alex. Made of blue enamelled sheet metal, they bear the name in a stylish calligraphy in French and Arabic. And then, sometimes they are green with the name in either French or English, plus Arabic. And more recently there may be a whole lot of them on a signpost, and the street names are only in English and Arabic. Sometimes they are covered in paint and barely legible, and, of course, sometimes they are quite simply not there.

Old maps of the city can provide precious information, telling of different waves of naming, from the creation of a district through the major political events that have marked the history of Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries. The line of a street may have its origin in the distant past and might follow the medieval or even ancient road network. The inhabitants themselves have special memories of the streets in their district and these are worth exploring.

The exhibition led to the creation of a web documentary entitled The Streets of Alexandria, which invites you to wander through this cosmopolitan district where you might, as you cross the road, bump into some of the leading personalities who have populated the city.