A hallmark of modern architecture, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a superb addition to Alexandria’s cityscape. A stunning work of stone and metal, the central library features a huge, tilted glass roof reminiscent of a sundial, and the walls are carved with text from over 120 languages, ancient and modern. Its location beside the Mediterranean only emphasizes its sophisticated lines of construction. Everything is created to inspire admiration and to remind the visitor of the importance of the library’s past role.
The Bibliotheca, which opened in 2003, harks back to Alexandria’s role as a prominent seat of learning in ancient times. Ptolemy II of Egypt opened the original Library of Alexandria in the third century BC, from which point it grew into the largest library in the world. While the modern incarnation does not have such high aspirations – it is still relatively small when compared with other international libraries – it is well on its way to establishing itself on the academic circuit.
But this is much more than a library. In addition to the central collection there are museums of antiquities, manuscripts and the history of science; galleries for temporary art displays; a planetarium; special sections for children; and rare books available nowhere else in the world. You can wander around the permanent collection of Egyptian film-maker, writer and artist Shadi Abdel Salam. Or take a seat in front of a cultural film relating the history of Egypt. And once you’ve done all that, it’s not a bad place to find a quiet corner and settle down with a good book or two.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is at El Shatby 21526. See www.bibalex.org for more.