Alexandria was founded around a small, ancient Egyptian town c. 332 BC by Alexander the Great. It became an important center of Hellenistic civilization and remained the capital of Ptolemaic (Greek) Egypt and Roman and Byzantine Egypt for almost 1000 years, until the Muslim conquest of Egypt in AD 641, when a new capital was founded at Fustat (later absorbed into Cairo). Hellenistic Alexandria was best known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; its Great Library (the largest in the ancient world; now replaced by a modern one); and the Necropolis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. Alexandria was the second most powerful city of the ancient world after Rome. Ongoing maritime archaeology in the harbor of Alexandria, which began in 1994, is revealing details of Alexandria both before the arrival of Alexander, when a city named Rhacotis existed there, and during the Ptolemaic dynasty.
From the late 18th century, Alexandria became a major center of the international shipping industry and one of the most important trading centers in the world, both because it profited from the easy overland connection between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and the lucrative trade in Egyptian cotton.
Alexandria is believed to have been founded by Alexander the Great in April 332 BC as Ἀλεξάνδρεια (Alexandria). Alexander's chief architect for the project was Dinocrates. Alexandria was intended to supersede Naucratis as a Hellenistic center in Egypt, and to be the link between Greece and the rich Nile valley. Although it has long been believed only a small village there, recent radiocarbon dating of seashell fragments and lead contamination show significant human activity at the location for two millennia preceding Alexandria's founding
Alexandria was the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world for some time. The city and its museum attracted many of the greatest scholars, including Greeks, Jews and Syrians. The city was later plundered and lost its significance.
In the early Christian Church, the city was the center of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, which was one of the major centers of early Christianity in the Eastern Roman Empire. In the modern world, the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria both lay claim to this ancient heritage.