Bibliotheca Alexandrina – Alexandria, Egypt - Atlas Obscura

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

The lost library of Alexandria, revived as a spearhead of cultural preservation. 


The Egyptian city of Alexandria is famed for its library, one of the Seven Wonders of the World that has been completely lost to fires and wars over the centuries. Among the greatest academic institutions of antiquity, it’s purported to have been home to a collection of over 100,000 books.

Though no trace of the great library remains today, modern-day Egypt has attempted to revive it as its spearhead of cultural preservation. The project was initiated in 1974 by Alexandria University, and, as it garnered support from the government and UNESCO, the new library was finally completed and inaugurated in 2002.

Dubbed “Bibliotheca Alexandrina,” the new library is a major national library housing millions of books and a complex of cultural facilities, including four museums, four art galleries, a planetarium, a manuscript restoration lab, and more.

Designed by a Norwegian architectural office called Snøhetta, the building is a winner of the 1988 architectural design competition held by UNESCO and gives a modern, almost futuristic look to the new Library of Alexandria. Engraved all over the outer walls of one building are words and phrases in dozens of different languages, in keeping with the institute’s international features. Outside the complex, the gate is guarded by a genuine piece of ancient Egypt, a statue of a Ptolemaic ruler.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina also serves as the Internet Archive’s first external backup site, as part of their partnership established to “preserve heritage for future generations and provide universal access to human knowledge.” The library has also been nominated and put on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage.

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May 27, 2024

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