Amongst the Stacks
The Bibliotheca Alexandria was another of the reasons I wanted to visit Alexandria. Originally established in 283 BC, the Great Library of Alexandria was one of the first libraries open to the public and was a massive centre of knowledge. Copyright was of little interest back in the days when Alexandrian law demanded the confiscation and duplication of manuscripts arriving in the city by boat. Reading about Google’s scanning of the world’s libraries for its online catalogue, certain parallels come to mind.
The new library, the Bibliotheca Alexandria, was opened in 2002 and is an impressive piece of architecture. The sunlight reflecting off the metal discus that forms the library’s form reminded me a little of Libeskind’s Juedisches Museum in Berlin. Beside the entrance, a large, curving, ornamental wall is inscribed with characters from “every known” alphabet; I was limited to understanding those of Arabic, Cyrillic, Japanese and of course Latin, whilst ogling at the hieroglyphs, characters and pictograms of many other languages and civilisations.
Inside, the angled windows from the discus form of the building cast a wonderful light over the book-shelves and rows of desks. There is space to hold eight million books, over tenfold more than the 700,000 documents of the original Great Library; although the spaces on the shelves indicated its current stock is somewhat less. Pieces of typographic and calligraphic art are dotted around.
I sat with Alexandria’s studious souls, idling away the afternoon with books on Arabic calligraphy and Middle-Eastern & African linguistics. I miss my books.