Alexandria laid foundations for the modern world (2016)
Few metropolises are as steeped in legend as Alexandria, not least because few metropolises have ever attempted to gather together the world's stories in one place as Alexandria once did, writing a new chapter of urban history in the process. In these halls the true foundations of the modern world were laid - not in stone, but ideas Although it is ancient Alexandria's individual showstoppers - the lighthouse, library and museum - that are best remembered and celebrated in our own time, the city's influence on contemporary life truly begins with its overall design. On one level, Dinocrates' plan for Alexandria was a cut and paste job, following the typical pattern of many of the Greek cities he was familiar with. Whereas Hippodamus was largely confined to piecemeal projects, transforming small sections of older cities from within, at Alexandria Dinocrates was offered a blank canvas - and a chance to put his master's innovations into practice on an unprecedented scale. "You have the heptastadion forming the harbours, the harbours protected by the lighthouse, and the line to the lighthouse running back into the city's main grid-plan on the same orientation," says Dr Judith McKenzie, of Oxford University's School of Archaeology and author of The Architecture of Alexandria. Alexandria became a template of urban absolutism But Alexander himself would never live to see these marvels, or indeed the city which he founded. "In the old polis every citizen had an active part to play: in the new municipality, the citizen took orders and did what he was told." In Mumford's eyes, the formal order and beauty so perfectly embodied by Alexandria on the outside reflected the disintegration of the real, messy freedom once promised by cities deep within.