Egypt and the UN cultural body, UNESCO, are reviving the 2000-year-old Great Alexandria Library, one of the largest libraries in the world.
The $200 million project, sponsored by UNESCO, has received donations from countries around the globe and considerable attention since its inception in 1989. A symbol of international cultural awareness, it has taken slightly more than five years to prepare it for its inauguration early next year.
The library was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, which stood for 16 centuries before collapsing in an earthquake in AD 1349.
Some historians say it burned down when Julius Caesar's legions sacked the city in 48 BC. Others say parts of it survived until the Arab invasion of Egypt more than 600 years later.
The modern library will contain around half a million volumes initially, with an eventual capacity of eight million books. It will accommodate 2,500 people in 300 study cells. An estimated 10,000 visitors are expected daily.
The library will include space for audio-visual items such as slides, tapes, CD ROMs, Internet access and videos. A planetarium and conference center will seat more than 3,500 people.
"The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has never disappeared from its ancient site. In physical reality maybe, but the contributions of the scholars, the knowledge emitted from this library, has formed the basis of our current civilization," said project manager Mohsen Zahran.
“This hall is the greatest single reading hall in any library in the world," Zahran added. "As the ancient library has been the source of knowledge for our present civilization, this one is also ours. We owe the Bibliotheca Alexandrina its revival. Visitors from overseas feel it is theirs, they are part of it." Zahran said there were no problems from the state regarding censorship of materials donated from abroad.
"It is known that this is a public research library," said Zahran.
"According to a policy drawn up by UNESCO experts in the late 1980s, we are required to use various research library references to comply with world-class standards." He said a panel of local and international experts was brought in to recommend which references would be used in specialized fields.
"This is an Egyptian project from the very beginning that has been implemented with international support," Zahran said. "It is everybody's project now. It is going to serve the world community." The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is next to the University of Alexandria Faculty of Arts campus, in Shatby, and overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
In supporting the revival project, brainchild of Alexandrian historian Mustafa al-Abbadi more than 20 years ago, the international community has taken the first step towards effacing the disaster caused by a fire that burned down the old library more than 1600 years ago.
The inauguration was delayed because of the late arrival of certain shipments due to adverse weather conditions in the Mediterranean. Zahran said more than a thousand workers were working 24 hours a day in two shifts to meet the construction deadline.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )