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Bibliotheca Alexandrina: why visit it?

Undoubtedly, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is one of the great tourist attractions of the city of Alexandria, especially for lovers of culture in general and books in particular. In this post we tell you what you can find there if you decide to visit it during your stay in this city.

A little context

The Library of Alexandria was one of the most important centers of knowledge in the ancient world, a true icon for the civilization that gave birth to it: the Egypt of the Ptolemaic era, where Egyptian and Greek traditions mingled. Founded in the 3rd century BC in this city on the shores of the Mediterranean, then capital and center of power, it declined over time until it ceased to exist at an undetermined time in later centuries, probably due to catastrophes such as fires and riots.

Although there is no reliable data on its collections, it is estimated that it may have housed more than 100,000 works at its peak, in addition to organizing literary and other events. It thus occupied a prominent place in this city that aspired to be the heir of Athens as a city that spread Hellenistic culture. Moreover, his memory and legacy endured in later times and civilizations, as in the Renaissance.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina of today

At the end of the twentieth century, at a time of research and recovery of the ancient world, and also in a context of tourist promotion of the city, it was decided to build a new libraryinspired by the ancient one, and that it would be a modern center of knowledge, open to all the cultures of the world.

For this reason, the project was sponsored by Unesco, with the participation of important institutions and personalities from different countries. In fact, a large part of its collections (consisting of hundreds of thousands of books and documents) are donations, notably from the National Library of France, but also from the Nobel Foundation, which has given rise to the Nobel Section, with books and objects of all the winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature from its creation in 1901 to the present day.

The architectural firm that designed the building was Norwegian (Snøhetta), using contemporary materials and concepts (concrete, glass, aluminum, large and open spaces) but with inspiration and nods to what must have been the original Library of Alexandria and the civilization that gave birth to it. Therefore, it also uses the traditional Aswan rock; there are large columns as a reference to the hypostyle halls; it has a circular shape in reference to the sun god, Ra; and on its main façade there are bas-reliefs with calligraphies of languages of the world.

Main areas of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Like the original Library of Alexandria, which actually consisted of two libraries and was part of a larger enclosure dedicated to the Muses (Museion), the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is actually a large cultural center thatgoes beyond the concept of a library.

For example, there are several museums of various themes:

  • Museum of Antiquities, with pieces related mainly to the history of the city and places of its surroundings. For example, antiquities extracted in underwater archaeological works.
  • Museum of Manuscripts, all of them digitized.
  • Sadat Museum, with works donated by former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Anwar el-Sadat.

And as far as the library itself is concerned, the following spaces can be highlighted:

  • The central library, with eleven floors and a capacity to hold up to 8 million books
  • The aforementioned Nobel Section
  • Specialized libraries, including the Taha Hussein library for visually impaired persons
  • Other units of international cultural institutions, including Unesco

For all these reasons, entering and ‘getting lost’ in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is an experience that will captivate lovers of knowledge. If this is your case and you are traveling to Egypt with this intention, you can contact us to organize a tailor-made experience. We will arrange the tickets and provide you with the guided tour you need.

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