It took Benjamin of Tudela two days to get from Lammanah to Alexandria. In his descriptions of Alexandria, Benjamin of Tudela is focused on the appearance of the city and the legends behind it. He is incredibly intrigued by the legend of Alexander of Macedon, the city’s founder. Benjamin was immediately impressed with Alexandria for its legacy of being strong and beautiful after Alexander of Macedon named it after himself. He notes the immaculate architecture and the importance of the city’s Aristotelian academy where people from all over the world travel to study. He also pays attention to the physicality of the city: the wide and straight streets and its position over a hollow.
From his writing, it is clear that Benjamin is impressed with Alexander and his product of Alexandria. He writes of a story about a lighthouse tower that Alexander built with a mirror on top of it so that the inhabitants of the city could see ships coming from the west and protect Alexandria from attempted attack. The Christians began to arrive at the lighthouse with their ships and eventually captured Crete and Cyprus. Benjamin goes into great detail about the function and legend of the lighthouse and how it has become a symbol for Alexandria, as it is somewhat of a port city, or a “commercial market for all nations,” as he puts it, listing various Christian and Muslim kingdoms who use it as such. At the end of his passage about Alexandria he describes a marble sepulchre by the coast and then quickly mentions that there are about 3,000 Jews who live in the city.
It is unclear as to how long Benjamin of Tudela spent in Alexandria, however it becomes clear what is important to him based on his writings. Benjamin is Jewish, but does not mention anything about the 3,000 Jewish people living in Alexandria. With just the mention of the number of Jews, it seems that it is enough for him to know that at least there are Jews present in the city. He is, however, careful to mention that it was the Christians who captured Crete and Cyprus from the powerful Alexander of Macedon.
The way Benjamin of Tudela writes of Alexandria makes it seem as if he is very familiar with the city via stories he has heard from other travelers. His tone makes it seem as though he is excited to finally see this famed city with his own eyes. He does not make note of anything that is too surprising to him, save for the marble sepulchre with the mystery ancient characters.
As a modern reader, I am not too surprised about any of Benjamin’s observations about Alexandria. I would expect this sort of fascination about the history of the city, however, I expected there to be more wonder in his tone of writing, especially about the people since he described Alexandria to be so busy. But, if he heard stories and descriptions of Alexandria prior to his own journey, he must not be too surprised about the actual appearance of the city.
The writer’s purpose in this journey seems to be to prove that he was there and remember specific details about it. It does not feel like this was written with the intention of an audience. If it was, it would have more fantastical details about the people and the landscape. To him, the importance was see what was actually there and noting how many Jewish people lived in the city.