Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina bridges city’s ancient, modern times

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Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a massive unique library and cultural symbol of the Egyptian Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria which was founded by King Alexander the Great some 2,300 years ago, features a disc-shaped exterior and 11 internal levels, all under one glistening, tilting roof.

The iconic library was inaugurated in 2002 as a revival of the original ancient Library of Alexandria, which was one of the largest and most significant libraries worldwide before being destroyed by a fire a few decades BC.

“Egypt has worked hard since the 1990s to rebuild, organize and employ the library and operate it in the way we see now,” Mostafa El-Feki, director of the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, told Xinhua, noting the new library was built on the same site of the old one.

“The most important role of the library is the cultural role it plays. I believe the cultural factor is the most influential in contemporary international relations,” he said.

El-Feki sees the new library as an extension of the old one, which was “a huge cultural edifice built in the Hellenistic Greek era, completed during the reign of King Ptolemy II, and burnt in mysterious circumstances unknown until now.”

The main hall of the new spacious Bibliotheca Alexandrina consists of 11 levels under one roof, with a total area of more than 20,000 square meters and shelves that can host 8 million books.

The huge library also contains several specialized sub-libraries, say, for children, young people and the visually impaired.

“Bibliotheca Alexandrina is not only a library for reading but rather an integrated cultural complex, as it contains four specialized museums, four sub-libraries for people with special needs, and 13 research centers in all branches of science,” said Mohamed Soliman, head of the Cultural Outreach Sector of the library.

Among the library’s research centers are the Manuscript Center, the Center for Strategic Studies, the Writing and Scripts Center and Zahi Hawass Center of Egyptology.

It also has about 13 fine art exhibitions and a center for arts including theater and cinema, according to Soliman.

One of its four major museums is the Manuscript and Rare Book Museum, which includes about 120 manuscripts and 60 rare books kept in 60 showcases, some of which are more than 1,000 years old, according to the museum director Nadia El-Sarrif.

One of the most important rare books is an original copy of Description de l’Egypte printed in Paris in 1821 following the French military campaign in Egypt, El-Sarrif told Xinhua.

Since its opening 20 years ago, Bibliotheca Alexandrina has become a main destination for students and researchers from Egypt and nearby countries, as well as a major stop for local and foreign tourists in Alexandria.

Mohamed Al-Fatih Osman, a PhD student of computer science, came specially from Sudan to subscribe at Bibliotheca Alexandrina and became a frequent visitor of the library.

“I found that it is the closest best library to Sudan where I can find good references and researches through which I can achieve my research goals,” Osman told Xinhua inside the library.

Tasneem Ragab, a high school student from Alexandria, was occupied reading an Arabic book on the brain and the nerve system.

“I love reading in general, so I come here because I know I will find books on all subjects of interest to me, such as scientific and linguistic books,” she said, adding the library can be visited for reading, studying or entertainment.

The external vast yard of the library is most characterized by a large ball-like structure, half of which is transparent to visitors, and underneath lies a planetarium and the History of Science Museum.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina can accommodate 3,000 visitors at a time, but entry is currently restricted to 1,000 per day as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19.

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