How dare you and the rest of your
barbarians set fire to my library?
Play conqueror all you want,
Rape, murder, pillage thousands,
millions of human beings.
But neither you nor
any other barbarian…
…has the right to destroy
one human thought!
When young at school in early age I learnt about the Alexandria library, something that as a young reader excited my imagination , and saw the burning of the library of Alexandria as such a tragedy. It was one of the greatest libraries in human history, holding a vast archive of manuscripts and books from all over the ancient world, and what our ancients would have themselves considered ancient. It was built after the famous Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and acquired knowledge from all parts of the globe. From East to West, the teachings of multiple civilizations throughout human history up to that time could be found in the great library.
The books contained in this library touched upon every subject that concerns humanity, from health, science, and astronomy to geology, philosophy, mysticism, magic, knowledge of the spiritual world, and much more.
Libraries as such were well known to multiple ancient civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria, and Greece, who were very impressed by Oriental knowledge. There is literary evidence of Greek individuals visiting Egypt specifically to acquire knowledge:e.g., Herodotus, Plato (particularly in Phaedrus and Timaeus), Theophrastus, and Eudoxus of Cnidus (as detailed by Diogenes Laërtius in the 3rd century CE).
The Royal Library of Alexandria or Ancient Library of Alexandria
Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts. It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, with collections of works, lecture halls, meeting rooms, and gardens. Alexandria was considered the capital of knowledge and learning, in part because of the Great Library. The library was part of a larger research institution called the Musaeum of Alexandria, where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied.
The library was created by Ptolemy I Soter, who was a Macedonian general and the successor of Alexander the Great. Most of the books were kept as papyrus scrolls. It is unknown precisely how many such scrolls were housed at any given time, but estimates range from 40,000 to 400,000 at its height.
Arguably, this library is most famous for having been burned down resulting in the loss of many scrolls and books; its destruction has become a symbol for the loss of cultural knowledge. Sources differ on who was responsible for its destruction and when it occurred. The library may in truth have suffered several fires over many years. In addition to fires, at least one earthquake damaged the city and the library during this time. Possible occasions for the partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria include a fire set by the army of Julius Caesar in 48 BC and an attack by Aurelian in the 270s AD.
Well, as a child I cried the loss of the library, as much as Shakespeare did, and I am sure, as much, as every other bibliophile in history, since so many years ago.
The New Library
The idea of reviving the old library dates back to 1974, when a committee set up by Alexandria University selected a plot of land for its new library, between the campus and the seafront, close to where the ancient library once stood. The notion of recreating the ancient library was adopted by other individuals and agencies. One leading supporter of the project was former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; UNESCO was also quick to embrace the concept of endowing the Mediterranean region with a center of cultural and scientific excellence. An architectural design competition was organized by UNESCO in 1988 to choose a design worthy of the site and its heritage. The competition was won by Snøhetta, a Norwegian architectural office, from among more than 1,400 entries. The first pledges were made for funding the project at a conference held in 1990 in Aswan: USD $65 million, mostly from the Arab states. Construction work began in 1995 and, after some USD $220 million had been spent, the complex was officially inaugurated on 16 October 2002.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is trilingual, containing books in Arabic, English, and French. In 2010, the library received a donation of 500,000 books from the National Library of France, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The gift makes the Bibliotheca Alexandrina the sixth-largest Francophone library in the world. The BA also is now the largest depository of French books in the Arab world, surpassing those of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, in addition to being the main French library in Africa.
Building and library features
The dimensions of the project are vast: the library has shelf space for eight million books, with the main reading room covering 20,000 square meters (220,000 sq ft) on eleven cascading levels. The complex also houses a conference center; specialized libraries for maps, multimedia, the blind and visually impaired, young people, and for children; four museums; four art galleries for temporary exhibitions; 15 permanent exhibitions; a planetarium; and a manuscript restoration laboratory. The library’s architecture is equally striking. The main reading room stands beneath a 32-meter-high glass-paneled roof, tilted out toward the sea like a sundial, and measuring some 160 m in diameter. The walls are of gray Aswan granite, carved with characters from 120 different human scripts.
The collections at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina were donated from all over the world. The Spanish donated documents that detailed their period of Moorish rule. The French also donated, giving the library documents dealing with the building of the Suez Canal.
Why don’t you ask it, to your Magic Mirror?
Ironically in the course of my life, since the days I felt sadness as many before me, for such loss, now day things have changed to the point, where libraries are not even fashionable, and some may question their value, as a public service, since we live in the digital age, with computers, and the Internet, libraries are mainly museums to the past, despite being one, of the now rapidly diminishing amount of people, who prefer to hold a paper book in my hands, rather than a tablet, or read it on my computer screen.
Which take me to another issue, the many times, I have to remind people who carry the library of my childhood dreams, at the tip of their fingertips, and still ask me all sort of questions, and I remind them often with these words:
Why don’t you ask it, to your Magic Mirror?
You got no idea, the many puzzlement faces I got to see, until, suddenly they catch my meaning, and reach for their phone!
Like Magic, doesn’t it?
The magic Wonder, of wonders, who, could have told me then?
The wondrous Magic mirror, of the evil Queen, Merlin’s amazing crystal, gazing ball, right there, at the fingertips, of every Tom, Dick and Harry, all these, numberless, absent minded people, who use it for trivial things, like chatting, texting, exchanging jokes, and some no better, than the evil Queen, as a mere vanity tool, instead of a new depository of wisdom like the ancient Alexandria library of yore.