The Art Traveller: Cairo To Alexandria

Cairo Station

Cairo To Alexandria

The train from Cairo to Alexandria is the route from the civilisation of the Nile to the civilisation of the Mediterranean, the two cultural zones that most deeply affected human culture, as they brought together Africa, Levantine Asia and southern Europe. Cairo, situated near the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, was my embarkation point, on a fast train – very comfortable and convenient.


I will write about Cairo itself later, though there are many Cairos and I don’t expect to experience all of them, or even most of them.

But it is the train journey I want to write about here. Sitting in the train watching Egypt go by, the deeply ancient agricultural world of the Nile Delta and the villages and cities I pass by. It is almost ridiculously cliché to say things ‘a blend of ancient and modern’ so I won’t  say it but – it really is that. Donkey carts and horse wagons, farmers on mules; similar life for the past five thousand years or more. The flat landscape is brilliant green, with fields of beans, crops and giant cabbages, interspersed with fruit plantations and orange groves. And every so often, modern buildings, half built villages, and even 19th century Belle Epoque buildings dating from the time of the monarchy.

Egypt is a cacophony of impressions, each one jostling for your attention. It can be overwhelming but it’s never less than fascinating.

The train journey runs the length of the Nile Delta. From north to south, the delta is approximately 160 km (99 mi) in length. The delta is divided into sections, as the Nile divides into two main distributaries, the Damietta and the Rosetta, flowing into the Mediterranean at port cities of Damietta and Rosetta (Rashid).

Although Aristotle claimed that the Nile Delta was created by Egyptian engineers, so far scholars are unable to determine if that is the case, so we don’t know whether the delta is man-made or was formed naturally.

The train from Cairo to Alex takes about 2 ½ to 3 hours depending on how many stops you make. My train in the morning stopped at the agricultural city of Banha; Tanta, famous for its festivals and confectionary; and Damanhur, a city dedicated to the god Horus. Damanhur is also notable for being the site of a huge rebellion against the invading French in 1799. I did not get a chance to leave the train to see the cities; maybe next time.

And then, I arrived in — Alexandria!