Bibliotheca Alexandrina: Five things to know about Egypt’s beacon of knowledge

Shounaz Meky - Al Arabiya English
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The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a must destination for book lovers on a visit to Egypt. Erected on a magnificent site alongside Alexandria's ancient harbor, the library is home to 2 million books and receives thousands of visitors a year.

Al Arabiya English visited the bibliotheca this month, and here is why it is more than just a library:

1- It was dedicated to recapture “the spirit of openness” of the original library of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great in the third century BC. It is considered one of the ancient world’s most significant libraries. When it was destroyed in the third century AD, countless scrolls and books were lost.

2- It took seven years to establish the new 11-story library. In 1988, an architectural competition for designing the new library sponsored by the UNESCO was won by the Norwegian firm Snøhetta. Fundings were pledged from all over the world, including many Arab states, such as the UAE, Libya and Qatar. It was complete by 2001.

3- The main reading hall accommodates 2000 readers and is considered the largest of its kind, worldwide, a tour guide at the library told Al Arabiya English. It occupies more than half of the library’s volume and is stepped over seven terraces. At the room, goers can see the sun rays pass through a 160m-diameter glass-panelled roof tilted out toward the sea like a sundial.

4- The library contains cultural and educational functions, including a planetarium, several museums, a school for information science. One of its museums includes an exhibition for items used by Egypt’s former President Anwar el-Sadat. Also, a gallery for rare books and manuscripts at the library showcases rare copies of the Holy Quran and two pieces of the decorative kiswa of the Holy Kaaba.

5- The bibliotheca includes the fourth largest francophone library in the world with the biggest collection of French books outside of France. The French National Library donated a collection of 500,000 French books.

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