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Founded by Alexander III of Macedon (the "Great") in 331 BC, Alexandria of Egypt can only be described as the ultimate metropolis of the Hellenistic World.  Under the Ptolemies, the Hellenistic rulers of Egypt, Alexandria developed into: a populous Cosmopolis of 500.000 (or more) Greeks, Egyptians, Jews, Anatolians and others;  a leading harbour in the Mediterranean; and a ‘beacon’ of world’s knowledge, home of the Mouseion and the Great Library. In appearance, Alexandria of the Ptolemies was the city of ‘wonders’ such as the great Pharos Lighthouse, “far ahead of all the rest in elegance and extent and riches and luxury” (Diodorus of Sicily, Histories 17.52).

Equally elegant and extensive was Alexandria of the Dead, the “Necropolis”, as defined in Greek by Strabo the Geographer, “in which are many gardens and groves and halting-places fitted up for the embalming of corpses” (Geography 17.6). The necropolis consisted of a vast network of underground corridors, galleries, chambers and multi-chambered complexes, also known as hypogea (in Greek, underground structures), hewn into Alexandria’s mother rock.

In reflection to the city of the living, and its multi-cultural fabric, Alexandrian cemeteries hosted burials of all social classes and traditions. In principle, the dead were placed in narrow holes, known as loculi, cut on the walls of the burial chambers. Loculi were sealed with slabs imitating doorways or depicting the dead. Sometimes facades of loculi are shaped in form of Egyptian or Greek style Naiskoi (shrines). In some exceptional cases the dead was buried inside a stone sarcophagus in the form of a kline (bed).

The Hellenistic Necropolis of Alexandria is today represented by three major archaeological sites: the cemeteries(also commonly calledNecropoleis) of Shatby, Mustapha Kamel and Anfushi. Among them, the cemetery of Shatby represents the earliest known part of the eastern necropolis of Alexandria as well as the most ancient surviving site of Alexandria in general.

Occupying an area of almost 3500 m2, the Hellenistic cemetery of Shatby is situated at the heart of modern Alexandria, in the present-day area of Shatby, north of St. Marc College, not far from the University of Alexandria and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. In relation to the Hellenistic city, the cemetery was located only a few hundred meters outside the east city walls (once, by the present-day Suez Canal Street) and the district of Basileia (Royal Quarters), situated inside walls to the west. The use of Shatby cemetery seems to begin by the end of 4th century BCE, only a couple of decades after the foundation of the city by Alexander the Great. The Greeks of Alexandria were the occupants of the cemetery, including first generation immigrants from Macedon, Thessaly, Crete, Cyrenaica and Asia Minor. After less than two centuries of use, the cemetery would be eventually expropriated by the expansion of the city-walls eastwards, in the late Ptolemaic period (2nd /1st century BCE).