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Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Revival of the Ancient Library of Alexandria


The principal objective of reviving the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is to es tablish a comprehensive research library of a unique collection and inten tion. The new library is designed as a modem state-of-art translation of the old, adequate for crossing the frontiers and meeting the challenges of the 21st. century. It will certainly contribute to excellence in research and advancement of human knowledge. The library will become a unique ad mired research institution, a haven for scholars worldwide to produce their quality work of excellence. It will also be an invaluable informa tion resource to support decision-making and broaden future horizons for the cultural, social and economic development of Egypt and the region. Subsequently, the library will play a needed role to further cooperation between the north and south of the Mediterranean Basin. as well as be tween the east and west. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has adopted its collection development policy in cooperation with UNDPIUNESCO and with valuable input of national and international experts, in or der to evolve its unique collection and functions and to avoid repetition and unnecessary overlapping with other research libraries regionally or in­ternationally. Since the famous 1990 Aswan Declaration, UNESCO and the international community has been cooperating with the Egyptian Gov ernment to muster resources for the library implementation. 
The new Bibliotheca Alexandrina has a site of 45 000m2 located in the cen ter of Alexandria across from the Silsilah Peninsula. This is the location of the ancient “Royal Quarter”, where the first library is thought to have been located. A 1993 archaeological survey of thes ite further verifies the loca tion of this “Royal Quarter”. 
The Corniche waterfront avenue and the sea bound the library site from the north for a length of 305m giving the Library a magnificent view of the Eastern Harbor. Also, on the site, is the Conference Center of Alexan dria, 5 000m2, which will augment the facilities of the library. 

A brief on the ancient library of Alexandria 

The Ancient Library of Alexandria was established by Ptolemy I (Soter) in the year 288 B.C. It was intended as a meeting place of the most eminent minds of the time who would gather in the temple of the muses or the Museum. This was the first research center in the world. It was a sort of scholarly academy attracting prominent scientists and intellectuals, with a library annexed to it. Several buildings were involved of which the most famous were the museum, and the library by the waterfront (both in the royal district called the Brucheion) and the daughter Library in the Temple of Serapis (the Serapeum).

The Library expanded to include all the knowledge in the ancient world. The library at its zenith may have had over 700,000 scrolls, and attracted men of letters, intellectuals, scientists and scholars, inter alia:

-Aristarchus, the first to proclaim that the earth revolves around the sun.

-Hipparchus, the first to measure the solar year with six and a half minutes accuracy. -Eratosthenes, the first to measure the circumference of the earth.

-Euclid, who wrote the elements of geometry.

-Archimedes, the greatest mathematician of the Ancient World.

-Callimachus, a poet, and the first to write a catalogue for books classified by topic and author, thereby becoming the father of Library Science.

The Ancient Library of Alexandria was open to all civilizations. Systematic efforts were made to collect the best works from all over the world, and any ships that docked in Alexandria were searched, and any books on board were copied. Scholars from all over the world were invited to come. The Old Testament was translated for the first time from Hebrew to Greek.

Thus, the Ancient Library of Alexandria in its first centuries was a mixture of all civilizations, and languages, however the Greek language was most dominant (as English is today). No doubt, the role of Greek thought and philosophy was remarkable in formulating the Hellenistic civilization, for which Alexandria with its great Library was the intellectual capital.

The genius of the Hellenistic Culture was to combine the glory of Ancient Greek (Hellenic) cultures with Egyptian and Asian cultures. It was an enriching result. To the question: Was Alexandrian culture and scholarship Greek or Egyptian? The answer is both. Both peoples should be proud of it.

The Library was not destroyed by the invading Arabs as some stories would have us believe. It was destroyed much earlier, through a long decline punctuated with fires and destruction over four and a half centuries. The first fire came about during the Alexandrian War, when Julius Caesar burnt the Egyptian fleet in 48 B.C. and the fire inadvertently spread to the library buildings near the docks. During the upheavals of the Roman Empire in the third century of our era, Alexandria suffered many upheavals and suppressions which led to the city being invaded by roman armies several times and the whole royal district where the old Library and Museum were located was destroyed. Alexandrian scholarships moved to the daughter library in the temple of Serapis (the Serapeum) in the southwest corner of the city. That too succumbed to destruction in a wave of anti-pagan actions and the rest of the Library was burnt in the Serapeum in 391 A.D. Hypathia (the Mathematician) and the daughter of the Library's last recorded scholar was brutally murdered by the mob in 415 AD bringing a final stop to the seven centuries of Alexandrian scholarship. That was 230 years before Arnr Ibn El Aas entered Egypt at the head of the first Arab Muslim army.

Though 1600 years have elapsed since the age of the Ancient Library of Alexandria came to an end, all scholars and scientists still acknowledge their debt to that remarkable institution and look with admiration on the role played by the Ancient Library as a center for dialogue and tolerance as well as science and learning.

A brief history of Alexandria across the ages 

Alexandria was built in the shape of a chessboard. It was divided into five districts, the most important was the Royal District, which holds the Museum, the Great Library of Alexandria, the lighthouse and the Sema, which is the funerary temple where Alexander the Great was buried.

Dar El Hekma, and the library were centers spreading culture to the Hellenistic world. They were also a meeting point for scientists, great philosophers and men of letters from various countries. Among Alexandria's scientists we find Hermophilus, the great surgeon and Hipparchus considered father of astronomy, and Archimedes of Syracuse the physicst and others. The fame of Alexandria's Library surpassed that of Dar El Hekma as it contained about 700 thousand biblia.

It was the first public library owned by the state in the ancient world. We can definitely state that Alexandria was the center of science, literature and art in the Hellenistic world during the three centuries of the Ptolomaic rule.

This page of history was folded when the Ptolomaic state ended at the hands of Emperor Augustus, following the battle of Actium in 30 BC, when Alexandria became the headquarters of the Roman Prefect until the Arab conquest in the 7th century AD. Alexandrians role did not stop at revolutions and sarcasm, they had a vital role in supporting rebels and those who wanted to defy the Emperor. They helped Vaspasion to reach the throne in 69 AD. Failure of the rebels led the Roman emperors to avenge themselves on the Alexandrians, an example is what happened during the rule of Marcus Orerllius (161 -180) and Sipherios (193 - 2110).

Greek influence prevailed during the Roman rule. Greek was the official language of Egypt. From the religious perspective the Alexandrian triad made up of Serapis, Isis and Harpocratis deified by the ptolemies remained the most prominent among the Gods during the Roman era.

Christianity spread in Egypt at this period and Copts, experienced religious persecutions which were at their worse during the rule of Diocletion, which was referred to as The Age of Martyrs.

Canope bath water cisterns, Roman cemeteries, El Anfoushi cemetery, Koum El Shogafa.

In the second half of the 7th century following the Arab conquest of Egypt, when the country was beginning a new era, Alexandria was no longer the capital of the country due to the foundation of Fostat. Accordingly, Alexandria lost its old importance as it broke off from the Roman World.

It also retained its commercial prominence because of its outstanding location that made it the most substantial trade point between the east and the west. The number of mansions, palaces, mosques, schools, famous shrines increased, Alexandria, persisted as the core of knowledge, culture and the sciences through her scholars and scientists who came from the east and the west.

During the period of independence as from the Abassid State, the Tulunid State (254 -282 HD -868 -905 AD), the Akshid State (323 -357 ~D I 995 -968 AD), Fatimid State (358 -567 HDI 969 - 1172 AD), Egypt managed to formulate its own independent identity which reached its peak during the Fatimid period.


Alexandria’s Sunken Treasures

 During certain geological occurrences, namely a series of violent earthquakes and certain historical outcomes, the northern parts of the city were affected and sunk below the depth of the sea, resulting in water encircling an incredible treasure. The heritage of the sunken city in the area near the Royal District and or El Ebrahemia and Mostafa Kamel. The tremendous importance of sunken antiquities can be deduced if we consider the large sunken port below the rocks of Pharos Island, and to the south west of it, taking into consideration the fact that the waters of the Mediterranean have risen two meters since the Roman period.

Actual excavation for sunken antiquities in Egypt started in the gulf of Abu Qir in 1933. Serious work connected with identifying Alexandria's sunken antiquities did not start in the Royal District until 1961 AD when the late diver Kamal Aboul Saadat reported seeing sunken monuments in the depth of the eastern port area, facing the coast of "Silsilah" and Kait Bey citadel.

The antiquities department, with the help of the naval forces, who were participating for the first time officially, salvaged a granite statue of a man wearing a cloak that covered most of his body. The statue was 170 cm in height and was discovered in the first half of November 1962 AD.

In October 1995, the expedition of the National French Center for Studies, began by making a survey of the depth of the sea. The expedition comprised thirty Egyptian and French divers specialized in underwater topographical surveys as well as architectural hauling and restoration. They conducted their work in an area of about 2.5 feddans facing Kait Bey Citadel.

The Egyptian-Greek expedition recently worked at the area between El Ebrahemia and Sidi Gaber where it found huge tanks carved in the rock.

The continuous excavations under water will clearly reveal the unknown history of the city by time.

The Bibliotheca Alexandria (Facts & Figures)

The Site:

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is located on a magnificent site in the Eastern Harbor, facing the sea on the north, and Alexandria University Complex on its southern side.

It overlooks the Silsilah Peninsula. It is very close to the location of the Old Library in the Brucheion (the Ancient Royal Quarter), as verified by the 1993 archeological survey.


Facts & Figures:


Total floors -11

Total floor areas -85,405 m2

Building Height -33 m

Universal Library -36,770 m2

Cultural Activities -4210 m2

Technical Services and Operational Support -10,860 m2

International School of Information Studies (ISIS) -3500 m2

Conference Center Ancillary Services, Other Areas -30,840 m2

Books: 200,000 at inauguration 1 up to 8 million ultimately

Periodicals: 1500/4000

Audio 1 Visual 1 Multimedia Materials: 10,000150,000

Manuscripts & Rare Books: 10,000/50,000

Maps: 50,000

Computer Data Bases: OPAC, Internet access to the information superhighways


Library Components:


The Library of Alexandria complex includes: the Main Library, Young Peoples' Library, Library for the Blind, Planetarium, Science Museum, Calligraphy Museum, Alexandria Archeological Museum, International School of Information Studies (ISIS), Conservation andRestoration Laboratory, Conference Center of Alexandria and Ancillary Services, Multipurpose Rooms and Exhibition areas.


These can be changed or augmented as needs evolve.

Construction Phases:


Phase # 1:

(TPI: Foundations & Geotechnical Engineering)

Contractors: Rodiorrrevi (Italy) / Arab Contractors (Egypt)

The construction work began on 15/05/1995 and was completed on 31/12/1996, at the cost of US$ 59 million. The construction work involved the most advanced technology.

The largest circular reinforced Diaphragm Wall in the world, 160 m diameter, was a major engineering achievement, along with more than 600 bored bell-bottom piles.


Phase # 2:

(TP2/3: Structures, Services, Fit-Out and External Works)

Contractors: Halfour Heatty (UK) 1 Arab

Contractors (Egypt)

The work began on 27/12/1996, at the cost of US$ 117 million. Architects/Engineers (Consultant to the HA): Snohetta a.s. (Norway)/ Hamza Associates (Egypt).



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