Reading Comprehension Text and Exercises


The Pearl of the Mediterranean

Situated on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, Alexandria is Egypt's second-most populous city. Now a major economic regional hub and industrial center thanks to its location and its easy access to oil and gas due to pipelines connecting the city to Suez and the Red Sea (Egypt's main source of energy resources), Alexandria has a long and glorious history as an ancient center of literature and education.

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Alexandria is named after the world-famous Ancient Greek monarch and conqueror Alexander the Great, who is believed to have founded the city in 332 BCE during his conquest of North Africa.


A Brief History of Alexandria

  • Alexander the Great ordered the foundation of the city of Alexandria in the 4th century BCE with the intention of building a new city to confirm and celebrate his rule over Egypt and to act as a link between Greece and the fertile Nile valley region of Egypt.

    Designed by Alexander's trusted architect Dinocrates, the city soon became a major intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world. The Library of Alexandria which was established in the 3rd century BCE under the patronage of the Ptolemaic Dynasty was one of the largest and most important educational centers in the world.
  • Alexandria suffered major destruction during the Kitos War in 115 CE and was largely rebuilt by the architect Decriannus under the orders of the Roman Emperor, Hadrian.

    By the 7th century CE, the city fell under the rule of the Sassanid Persian Empire and was then conquered by Arab forces who converted the city to Islam and established the Mamluk Empire. The city lost much of its previous importance as a site for trade and education as the nearby city of Rosetta grew to eclipse it.
  • After being conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1517, the city rose to prominence again in 1798 as Napoleon, the leader of Revolutionary France, occupied the city, making it one of his main power bases in North Africa.

    The city passed into the hands of the British soon after the Battle of Alexandria in 1801 and was rebuilt to retain much of its former glory in the first half of the 19th century under the rule of Muhammad Ali Pasha.
  • Many of the European communities who called Alexandria home abandoned the city after the Suez Crisis of 1956, which saw Arab nationalism and the desire to get rid of foreign influence in Egypt become stronger.

    However, the city has retained much of its cosmopolitan essence and is now one of Egypt's most important tourist destinations, with its rich and varied history attracting visitors from around the world.

Citadel of Qaitbay

Situated on the eastern side of the northerly tip of Pharos Island, which lies at the mouth of Alexandria's Eastern harbor, the Citadel of Qaitbay is one of the finest surviving examples of the Mamluk Empire's defensive fortresses constructed in the 15th century.

Built in 1477 by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa'it Bay, the fortress stands on the exact site of the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and whose ruins were used as part of the material to build the fortress.  

The citadel was extensively renovated during the rule of Muhammad Ali Pasha in the first half of the 19th century, before being damaged by the British navy during the Orabi Revolt of 1882. The building was restored to its former glory in the 1980s by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, who turned the building into a Maritime Museum.


Many visitors to Alexandria are drawn by the opportunity to view the remains of the Serapeum, an ancient Greek temple built during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-222 BCE).

Although most evidence of the temple no longer stands above ground, after the Serapeum was thought to have been destroyed by Christians in 391 CE who disapproved of its history as a site for the worship of Greek gods, excavations have uncovered an extensive series of catacombs or tunnels underneath the former site of the temple.

The Serapeum is also the site of Pompey's Pillar, one of the largest ancient Roman columns ever constructed outside of the ancient capitals of Rome and Constantinople at 88 feet (26.8 meters). Although mistakenly named after the Roman General Pompey, the pillar was in fact constructed to commemorate the victory of the Roman Emperor Diocletian over revolting Alexandrians in 297 CE.

Montaza Palace

At the heart of the beautiful Montaza Royal Gardens stands the Al-Haramlik Palace, commonly known as the Montaza Palace, one of Alexandria's most beautiful and historic landmarks. Built in 1892 by the Khedive (viceroy or ruler under the Ottoman Empire) Abbas II, the palace was constructed for use as a hunting lodge and secondary residence of the Khedivate of Egypt and Sudan.

Built using a combination of Ottoman and Florentine architectural styles, the palace's main tower is decorated with elaborate Italian Renaissance flourishes. Surrounding the palace are a number of exclusive luxury cabins, built by wealthy Egyptians and foreigners during the time of the Egyptian monarchy to stay close to the palace.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

This impressive library and cultural center on the shore of the Mediterranean is both a commemoration of the ancient Library of Alexandria that was destroyed during the classical period and an attempt to reinvigorate Alexandria's worldwide reputation as a center of learning.

Established in 2002 after seven years of construction work, the library complex contains six different specialized libraries housing books written in English, French, and Arabic, as well as four museums hosting a range of different Egyptian antiquities and manuscripts as well as the personal collection of former Egyptian president Anwar al Sadat.

An Authentic Alexandria Dish

Alexandria is one of the best places in the world to eat Ful medames, a classic Egyptian dish made with cooked fava beans prepared with vegetable oil, cumin, and lemon.

A typical breakfast dish, often served with bread, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh vegetables, ful was traditionally prepared in enormous pots which cooked overnight in the fires used to heat the bath water of the city's many hammams or public baths.

Comprehension Exercises

Vocabulary Questions

  1. What does "intellectual" mean?
    1. relating to sports and athletics
    2. relating to learning and education
    3. relating to music and dancing

  2. What does "eclipse" mean?
    1. to dunk something in salt water
    2. to cover something so as to block out any light it gives out
    3. to hang something on a wall

  3. What does "essence" mean?
    1. the most important element of something
    2. stench or bad smell
    3. sensation or feeling

  4. What does "catacombs" mean?
    1. a series of spikes to protect valuables
    2. heavy wooden ornamental doors
    3. underground tunnels or burial chambers

  5. What does "lodge" mean?
    1. a weapon with a sharp hook at one end
    2. accommodation or temporary home
    3. a kind of pot for cooking meat

Collocation Questions

  1. The Al-Haramlik Palace ___________ at the heart of the Montaza Royal Gardens.
    1. rests
    2. perches
    3. stands

  2. The Library of Alexandria was one of the ancient world's ___________ educational institutions.
    1. foremost
    2. first
    3. high

  3. The city is thought to have been founded by the Ancient Greek ruler and conqueror, Alexander the ___________.
    1. Good
    2. Great
    3. Awesome

  4. Much of the city had to be ___________ as a result of the destruction of Kitos War in the 2nd century CE.
    1. remodeled
    2. reclaimed
    3. rebuilt

  1. Alexandria was ___________ by British forces in 1801.
    1. engendered
    2. busied
    3. occupied

  1. The column built to commemorate a military victory by the Roman emperor Diocletian is usually ___________ called "Pompey's Pillar".
    1. mistakenly
    2. erringly
    3. misguidingly

  1. The Khedive or ruler of Egypt in the time of the Ottoman ___________ would spend their summers in the Montaza Palace.
    1. Kingdom
    2. Empire
    3. Realm

  2. The ___________ used to heat Alexandria's public baths were also traditionally used to cook ful medames.
    1. sparks
    2. flames
    3. fires

  3. It ___________ seven years to build the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
    1. took
    2. appropriated
    3. stole

  4. Many non-Egyptian residents of Alexandria ___________ the city after the Suez Crisis of 1956.
    1. bolted
    2. absconded
    3. fled

Wh Questions

  1. What was the name of Alexandria's first architect?
    1. Decriannus
    2. Dinocrates
    3. Demosthenes

  2. Why did Alexandria's importance decline between the 7th and 16th centuries CE?
    1. because of the rise of the nearby city of Rosetta
    2. because its harbor was blocked as a result of an earthquake
    3. because of an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague

  3. Where was the Lighthouse of Alexandria built?
    1. Pharos Island
    2. Taros Island
    3. Baros Island

  4. How is Ful medames traditionally served?
    1. with cream, cheese, and olives
    2. with sausages, bacon, and poached eggs
    3. with bread, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh vegetables

  1. When was the Bibliotheca Alexandrina opened?
    1. 2001
    2. 2002
    3. 2010

Evaluating Statements

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is true?
    1. Alexandria is located on Egypt's Mediterranean coast.
    2. Alexandria is located on Egypt's Red Sea coast.

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is false?
    1. Islam was the religion of the Mamluk Empire.
    2. Hinduism was the religion of the Mamluk Empire.

True or False?

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "The Citadel of Qaitbay was built using the ruins of the Library of Alexandria."
    1. True
    2. False

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "Napoleon occupied the city of Alexandria in 1897".
    1. True
    2. False

Answer Key

1. B| 2. B| 3. A| 4. C| 5. B| 6. C| 7. A| 8. B| 9. C| 10. C|11. A| 12. B| 13. C|14. A| 15. C| 16. B| 17. A| 18. A| 19. C| 20. B| 21. A| 22. B| 23. B| 24. B

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