The Library of Alexandria.. "The Great Library"
The ancient Library of Alexandria was established by the successors of Alexander the Great over two thousand years ago to house the largest collection of books in the ancient world, which at the time numbered 700,000 volumes, including works by Homer and Aristotle. It was also where Euclid, Archimedes, and Eratosthenes studied, with the latter being the first to calculate the circumference of the Earth. The library was founded by Ptolemy I Soter, the first ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty who inherited Egypt after Alexander's death. However, it was Ptolemy II Philadelphus who truly established and flourished it during his thirty-nine-year reign from 285 to 246 BC. He developed its system and brought scholars from across Greece while providing it with books from various sources. The Library of Alexandria became a model for other libraries in the Mediterranean world and served as a starting point for democratizing knowledge and making it accessible to all seekers of knowledge. It was not just a storage facility for books but rather consisted of two institutions: firstly, "the Mouseion," or museum, where specialized scholars in all fields resided; secondly, "the Library," which housed scrolls of books for scholars to access at any time. It seems that it was distributed between two locations: one adjacent to the Mouseion and another smaller one at Serapeum crossing. Its remains can still be seen at Pompey's Pillar today.
Ptolemy II Philadelphus was known for his high level of culture and love of knowledge. He sent out missions to collect books from every place so that the library could have access to all branches of science, eventually totaling around 750,000 scrolls. He also preserved the legacy of the great Greek writers and sent gifts of great value to the Athenian government in exchange for original copies of the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. When it came time to return them, he lost the bet he had made and instead sent beautifully copied versions.
This Ptolemaic king is also credited with translating the Five Books of Moses into Greek. He sent valuable gifts to the High Priest in Jerusalem in exchange for the original copy of the Torah accompanied by seventy Jewish scribes who came to Alexandria to translate it, making the knowledge of foreign sciences accessible to the patrons of the library in the Greek language, which was the official language at that time.
The Library of Alexandria derived its prestigious position not only from the grandeur of the books it brought in or translated, but also from the status of the scholars it attracted and the luxurious accommodations provided for them to devote themselves to science and research. Prominent scholars held the position of library curators, including Zenodotus, who established the foundations of literary criticism with classical literature and developed literary sciences. He was the first Greek to prepare a revised text of the Iliad and Odyssey, the greatest legacy of the Greeks. He was succeeded by Apollonius of Alexandria, the author of the epic poem "Argonautica," which is still read today, even though it fits the old taste. During his tenure, the poet Callimachus organized the famous catalog of the Library of Alexandria, which classified books by subject and author. Callimachus is considered the father of library science.
The third curator of the Library was the renowned geographer "Eratosthenes," who proved that the Earth is round and accurately calculated its circumference, as well as spoke about the possibility of sailing around the world, 1700 years before Columbus's famous voyage. He was succeeded by "Aristophanes" the Byzantine who was famous among scholars as a publisher of classical poetry and the writings of philosophers who preceded Plato.
These scholars, among many others, were credited with mapping the universe and the surrounding sky, organizing the calendar, establishing the foundations of science, and pushing the boundaries of our knowledge into previously unknown worlds. They also opened up horizons of world cultures and established a real dialogue between different civilizations. For over six centuries, Alexandria became a symbol of the pinnacle of knowledge and learning.
The ancient Library of Alexandria consisted of three buildings:
The original Museum in the Royal Quarter of the city.
An additional building was generally used for book storage and was located in the harbor.
The "Daughter Library" was located in the Serapeum, at the site of the temple of Serapis, the god of religious cults in Alexandria. The Serapeum was located in the southwestern part of the city, known as the popular quarter.
The Library of Alexandria gradually disappeared and suffered a slow decline starting from the era of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, where the library was mysteriously burned down in 48 BC during the occupation of Julius Caesar, who sent his warships to destroy the ships of the Ptolemaic dynasty anchored in the adjacent harbor. Some believe that these ships mistakenly bombarded the Royal Quarter of the city.
However, Mark Antony gave Cleopatra the 200,000 scrolls that were in the Library of Pergamum as compensation for the devastating losses caused by the fire. But the violent disturbances that followed within the Roman Empire led to gradual neglect, and then the complete destruction of the library.
Christianity entered Africa through Alexandria by the hands of Saint Mark in the first century AD, followed by the largest campaign of persecution of Christians by the Romans in the first three centuries AD. Roman armies came to Alexandria several times in an attempt to restore security and order between 200 and 300 AD.
During one of these campaigns, the majority of the Royal Quarter and the Museum building were destroyed. The persecution of Christians ceased when Constantine the Great converted to Christianity, but schisms within the church erupted. The intensity of the disputes increased, causing tolerant church fathers such as Saint Clement to leave the city. In 391 AD, Emperor Theodosius issued a decree banning any religion other than Christianity, and Christian groups led by Bishop Theophilus burned down the Serapeum in the same year. The greatest catastrophe of the Library of Alexandria occurred, as it marked the end of its role as a center of public culture.
Therefore, by 400 AD, the library had vanished, and after a few years, the era of the Alexandrian scholars disappeared. This means that the library disappeared over two centuries before the arrival of the Islamic Arab armies in 641 AD.
Despite its disappearance, the memory of the ancient library remained alive in people's minds and continued to inspire scholars and thinkers all over the world. The dream of rebuilding the great Library of Alexandria remained in the minds of many...
The New Library of Alexandria is located on the same site as the ancient library, in commemoration of the most famous library in the history of antiquity. The idea of reviving the library was proposed in the late 1980s when UNESCO called for contributions to revive the library. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak immediately established the General Authority for the Library of Alexandria. An international competition was held to design the library, and the Norwegian architectural firm, Snohetta, won the first prize. The design of the new library includes four underground levels and six upper floors, rising from the highest point of the steeply sloping circular surface. A nearby heavenly dome and a scientific museum were also constructed.
The library is ten stories high, and all lower levels are located underwater. The building's structure dives below the ground to protect its valuable contents from external environmental factors. The numerous open reading halls are the prominent feature of the Library of Alexandria, which includes 2,500 reading sections that lead to seven terraces. The books are stored beneath these terraces to facilitate easy access to them.
The work on the Library of Alexandria took a long period of time, with archaeological research starting in 1992, but no remains of the ancient library could be identified. In May 1995, the construction of the library's perimeter wall began, and the library was opened in October 2002. The New Library of Alexandria has taken on the responsibility of dedicating all its efforts to reviving the spirit of the original ancient library. To achieve this, the library aims to be:
- A window to the world for Egypt
- A window to Egypt for the world
- A leading institution in the new digital age
- A center for learning, tolerance, and the dissemination of the values of dialogue and understanding
The Library of Alexandria follows an objective strategy, where each activity unit complements and supports the activities of the other units in a harmonious and integrated manner. This strategy was developed to achieve the four main objectives of the institution, which are:
- To be a window to the world for Egypt
- To be a window to Egypt for the world
- To be a leading institution in the new digital age
- To be a center for learning, tolerance, and the dissemination of the values of dialogue and understanding among peoples and cultures.
The library joined the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, which includes about 30 of the world's largest libraries, including the Library of Congress. Only the Library of Alexandria has joined this federation in the past decade.
At the time of its opening, the Library of Alexandria contained a collection of 200,000 books, which has been refined and expanded. A special collection for multimedia resources for children and youth was created, and electronic resources have been established, with over 25,000 electronic journals and approximately 20,000 e-books.
The Library of Alexandria is considered the first digital library to follow modern technological systems in disseminating knowledge. The library harnesses its energies and capabilities to achieve global leadership in the digital field through a number of digital and technological projects. It aims to establish many partnerships with cultural institutions and its counterparts from the world's major libraries to realize the dream of making knowledge accessible to everyone, where anyone with internet access and a computer can access and read the treasures of human knowledge. Several specialized centers at the Library of Alexandria collaborate to undertake several heritage numbering and preservation projects, as well as disseminating knowledge. The International School of Information Science (ISIS) plays a pivotal role in implementing and developing these projects.
Global Digital Library Project
The Library of Alexandria collaborates with the US Library of Congress, the world's largest digital library, in a project called the "Global Digital Library" (www.worlddigitallibrary.org). The project aims to digitize rare and unique materials, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, audio recordings, films, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings from libraries and cultural institutions from all over the world. The project works to make these materials available for free on the internet through a massive electronic portal represented by the World Digital Library. This global project aims to support and promote international understanding across different cultures, enrich the international network of information with cultural content, and contribute to supporting academic and scientific research. The project also seeks to develop library digitization capabilities in developing countries so that all countries can participate and represent themselves in the World Digital Library. The project includes international partners such as UNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), and several major libraries in Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America.
The Million Book Project
The Library of Alexandria, in collaboration with its partners from China, India, and the United States, is working on digitizing one million research books within three years and making them available through the global internet network. The Library of Alexandria is expected to take a leading position in this field by scanning and digitizing 75,000 Arabic books within three years. Since October 2003, experts have used five scanning units to digitize 10,500 books and create a database of information about these books. This long-term project aims to convert all published books into digital books and represents a partnership between the Library of Alexandria and many international institutions to make human thought accessible to millions of people around the world in a sustainable manner.
The Library of Alexandria, in collaboration with the Development Gateway Foundation in Washington, DC, launched the Arabic digital version of the Development Gateway in the first week of March 2007. This electronic gateway is concerned with comprehensive and sustainable development. The Arabic version of the Development Gateway is available on the internet with specific mechanisms and innovative knowledge frameworks aimed at increasing the effectiveness of national efforts towards comprehensive and sustainable development. It also offers ideas on the scientific and effective foundations for building local capacities and facilitates the gathering of national partners to achieve further positive change in their common areas.
The New Library of Alexandria aims to revive the spirit of openness and research that characterized the old library. It is not just a library, but a cultural complex that includes:
- A library capable of accommodating millions of books.
- Six specialized libraries:
- For arts, multimedia, audiovisual materials.
- For the visually impaired.
- For children.
- For youth.
- For microfilms.
- For rare books and special collections.
- Four museums:
- For antiquities.
- For manuscripts.
- For Sadat.
- For the history of sciences.
- A celestial dome.
- An exploration hall to introduce children to science.
- The Cultural Panorama (also known as CULTURAMA): an interactive display created by the Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, presented through nine digital screens that are the first of their kind in the world. The Cultural Panorama has received a patent and numerous awards. The program offers the opportunity to display multiple layers of data, where the presenter can click on a specific element to go to a new level of detail. It is an attractive and informative display, showcasing Egyptian heritage from 5000 years ago until today using multimedia. It also sheds light on ancient Egyptian, Coptic, and Islamic heritage and displays models of each.
VISTA (Virtual Interactive Science and Technology Applications) is an interactive virtual environment that allows researchers to transform 2D data into 3D simulation models that can be entered into. The VISTA system is a practical tool that can be used for viewing during research, and it helps researchers experience simulation models of natural or artificial phenomena, rather than just viewing a system or building a natural model.
There are fifteen permanent exhibitions in the center, including Alexandria Through the Ages (Mohamed Awad Collection), Shadi Abdel Salam's World, Arabic Calligraphy Masterpieces, History of Printing, Arab Astronomical and Scientific Instruments in the Middle Ages (Knights of the Sky), and a collection of permanent exhibitions of selected contemporary Egyptian art, including: Muhie El Din Hussein's Book: A Creative Journey, Works by Artist Abdel Salam Eid, The Tiger Care and Abdel Ghani Abu Al-Enein Collection (Arab Folk Art), Saif and Adham and Anli: Movement and Art, Adam Henein Selections, Ahmed Abdel Wahab Selections, Hassan Suleiman Selections, Sculpture.
There are four halls for temporary art exhibitions. The center also has a conference center that can accommodate thousands of people. There are eight academic research centers including: The Alexandria Studies Center for Mediterranean Civilization, The Arts Center, The Lines Center, The Special Studies and Programs Center. International Institute for Information Studies. Manuscript Center. Documentation Center for Cultural and Natural Heritage (based in Cairo). Alexandria Center for Hellenistic Studies.
As a host to several institutions, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina includes:
1. The Alexandria Bibliotheca Academy (ABA).
2. The Arab Group for Ethics in Science and Technology (ASEST).
3. The Anna Lindh Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures, the first Euro-Mediterranean institution headquartered outside Europe.
4. The Research Project on Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy, located in one of the apartments owned by the library in the Shatby area.
5. The Arab Regional Office of the World Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (ARO-TWAS).
6. The Regional Office for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).
7. The Secretariat of Arab Delegations to UNESCO.
8. The Middle East and North Africa Network for Environmental Economics (MENANEE).
9. The Arab Women in Science and Technology Network (ANWST).
The number of these networks continues to grow, making the Bibliotheca Alexandrina a center for many international and regional networks.
1. Bibliotheca Alexandrina website.
2. General Authority for Information website.