Overland Journey to India
EGYPT . The land around Alexandria is so low, that it does not come into sight till we are quite close to the harbor of Alexandria; but some time previously, we observe rising, as it were, out of the sea, the windmills, Pompey's Pillar, the Lighthouse, and Cleopatra's Needle, with several towers and minarets. From the town westward to the Lake Mareotis, for the space of nearly a mile, the sand hillocks by the shore are literally covered with windmills. I counted about two hundred. The turrets are about thirty feet high in all, the length of the arms about twenty feet, breadth of sail three to three and a half feet. They have eight vanes each; and as they are set different ways, and so move in opposite directions in different mills, when tossing their arms in the wind, they look like a set of sea-monsters sprawling about on the shore, and striving to regain their native element. They are all employed in grinding wheat; and though rugged and rude enough in appearance, are in reality simple and efficient implements. They employ a single pair of stones, made either of French bhurr or vesicular lava from Sicily. They have no sifting or bolting apparatus: the ground wheat is received from the stones in a sack, and the flower afterwards dressed through a fine gauze sieve by the hand. I visited several of them, with a view to the introduction of a similar species of machine into India.
On landing at Alexandria, the traveler now feels that he is fairly out of Europe. He may have seen a stray and stunted palm-tree or two at Gibraltar or Malta, with here and there a Turk or Arab in his native dress: these last, indeed, may be met with in the streets of London. At Alexandria all the costumes are. Oriental, European residents mostly dressing like Turks. Vast groves of magnificent date-trees, far surpassing in beauty those to be met with in Western India, stretch away in all directions. Long strings of camels are employed in carrying merchandise. The women are all veiled - covered over with that unsightly blue vestment which conceals the person and the face, leaving a pair of little holes for the eyes to peep through. Formerly it was the custom for passengers from the steam-packets to place themselves on the backs of donkeys, in order to get through the streets. This is all changed now, and the traveler finds a large and roomy van ready for his convenience.
The great square of Alexandria, where most of the European inhabitants reside, has a singularly fine and pleasing appearance, though without anything of which the architect can boast. The houses are built of whitish limestone, like Bathstone, only here the walls remain pure as when erected - taking no tarnish from the weather. In the centre is an obelisk of the yellowish-white Cairo marble, which surmounts a fountain. The residences of the consuls around the square are each surmounted by a flag-staff, on which on gala-days the ensigns of their respective nations are displayed. The French consul has a strange-looking corkscrew staircase surrounding his, and leading to a watch-tower which overlooks the town. Many of the sign boards of the shopkeepers, especially of the apothecaries, are painted with Greek characters. Here are situated the principal hotels, and hence diverge streets to all parts of the town.
Alexandria was originally built in the form of a Madonian mantle, with its longer side to the sea. At one time it contained a population of above half a million, of which half were slaves. It boasted of four thousand palaces, four thousand baths, four hundred theatres or places of amusement, twelve thousand shops for the sale of vegetables, and forty thousand tributary Jews . Its public libraries are said to have contained seven, hundred thousand volumes of books. It was accidentally destroyed by fire during the war with the Romans in Caesar's time. Ages of misrule under Saracens, and latterly under Turks, fell like a blight on every thing in Alexandria, as on everything else in Egypt: and not until the era of Mehemet Ali, the present vigorous ruler, did the country show any symptom of revival. Since the beginning of the present century, the population of Alexandria has increased from seven thousand to seventy thousand. With its harbor and docks, it now possesses the appearance of a thriving port.