In a country rich with architectural masterpieces from various eras that have been standing for thousands of years, a modern construction that was completely established by the year 2002 has major importance amongst all of these buildings. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is one of the most unique modern constructions in Egypt, not only for the amazing design and facilities of this library but also for the long history behind this magnificent structure. The new library that we have now is built on the same site as the ancient library of Alexandria, which was unquestionably the greatest cultural center and library in the ancient world. It was considered a global hub for scientists, artists, and intellectuals.

The Library of Alexandria’s history:

Egypt’s location between Asia, Africa, and Europe made it the forum of ancient civilizations. The Greek dynasties, beginning with the Ptolemies, after thousands of years of pharaonic civilization growth and expansion, enabled Alexandria to be the intellectual destination for elites, philosophers, and scientists to share knowledge, as well as students. The library was the center of a massive research institution; it acted like a university for almost six centuries.

The ancient library of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy II Philadelphus, carried on the work begun by his father. The ancient library was only a section of many parts, as it contained a museum, meeting rooms, and a zoological and botanical garden.

According to UNESCO, the Library of Alexandria contained between 400.000 and 700.000 rolls of papyrus. Moreover, it had the first alphabetically arranged catalogue of all books and had legal deposit rights; thus, it could make a copy of all books that entered the country and obligated all ships passing by Alexandria to provide the books that they carried to be copied.

The ancient library completely vanished due to many wars and multiple invasions of Egypt. The most popular incident was in 48 B.C. when the Egyptian ships besieging Julius Caesar’s troops entrenched in the citadel of Alexandria were set on fire. The north wind spread the flames to the library, which destroyed it partially. After many invasions of Egypt, it is believed to have completely disappeared between 270 and 250 B.C.

The revival of Bibliotheca Alexandrina:

The main aim of Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s revival is to re-establish one of the most influential educational organizations that has ever existed. Furthermore, it attracts researchers from all over the world. Additionally, this massive project connected the city to its crucial historical role of being a source of inspiration and a model of knowledge.

UNESCO and the Egyptian government collaborated in order to reestablish the new bibliotheca of Alexandria. Almost 1300 architects from 77 countries participated in the design competition for the library. The design of the Norwegian firm Snøhetta eventually won the first prize in the competition in 1989. The construction of the project was delayed until 1994 due to archeological excavations on the site of the library, and then the establishment of the building was resumed until it was completely finished by October 2002.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina: the revival of the first universal library

It can be seen that the concept of the design is a disc that represents the sun partially tilted toward the sea, and the exterior wall of the library building is made of granite sourced from Upper Egypt. This wall has most writing systems and symbols in the world engraved on it. The design of the new building took sustainability into consideration, as the roof allows natural light into the library to reduce the consumption of energy. Another point to consider is that most of the materials used in the structure were locally produced.