Theos-World The LIBRARY at ALEXANDRIA
Nov 06, 1999 03:26 PM
by W. Dallas TenBroeck
Forgive this intrusion on your time, but the enclosed seems to be
valuable information on the recovery of ancient data in
and this may be of interest to you.
Ancient World's Great Database to Get a Successor
By DOUGLAS JEHL
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt -- This city is trying hard to recapture the
lost 2,000 years ago.
At its glorious peak, Alexandria was the center of science and
in the ancient world. And at its center -- before fires,
conquest sent this Mediterranean port city into its long
stood an extraordinary library. It was a center of scholarship
attracted the likes of Euclid and Archimedes and may well have
its goal of amassing a copy of every known book under a single
Now, after years of planning, a spectacular successor is to open
the product in part of a worldwide appeal to "efface the
the old library's loss. Even in the dirt and decay of modern
some see in the new institution a way that Alexandria may regain
place as a cultural crossroad.
"Its revival will benefit humanity," Mohsen Zahran, an
architect who is the project director, said of the new library.
In a bow
to the past, the new structure, like the old one, is to be
the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
The planned opening, expected early next year after more than 10
of construction, comes at a time when politicians, businessmen
archaeologists have thrown themselves into efforts to recapture
Alexandria's old glory.
A 20-mile road that skirts the Mediterranean has been widened,
horn-honking forbidden and dilapidated buildings torn down, all
a fresh window to a sea that has always fed Alexandria's
spirit. And just offshore, underwater beneath the city's historic
harbor, archaeologists from France and Egypt are uncovering
much that disappeared long ago, having toppled into the sea.
If the claims are accurate, they include remnants from
palace, and from the fabled lighthouse that was one of the seven
of the ancient world.
There is talk of one day transforming the waters into an
park. The highly popular governor, Muhammad Abdel Salam
taken a big step in that direction by halting sewage flow that
the waters of the city's harbor a kind of translucent muck.
Still, Alexandria today is burdened with four million people, all
into an overcrowded coastal strip. Outside the museums a visitor
few signs of the city's ancient harbor, and even the faded charm
made Alexandria a haven for foreign writers after World War II
encrusted in dirt.
Alexandria is Africa's third-largest city, behind Cairo and
Nigeria. But except in the notable case of the Egyptians who
its shores in the summer, it is often bypassed.
That might change, some say, with the opening of the modernistic
million library, designed by a Norwegian firm that won an
competition and built to emulate the rising sun and the perpetual
dawning of knowledge.
With space for four million works, a French-designed computerized
catalog and 500 built-in Internet ports, the library, which is to
open to researchers from around the world as well as the public,
immediately become by far the largest and most advanced in the
world. More than half of the construction cost has been paid by
Egyptian Government, which has made the project a national
The rest came from international donors rallied by Unesco, the
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which
embraced the project in 1988. Without that help, said Muhammad
Ibrahim, an economist at the Alexandria Business Association, the
of reviving a symbol so important to Alexandria would never have
The old library had the muscle of an empire behind it, having
conceived in 306 B.C. by Ptolemy I, the successor to Alexander
Great, who founded Alexandria just before his death in 322 B.C.
By law, the library was entitled to make a copy of every book
entered the country, and accounts of the time suggest that the
was taken liberally. Vessels that docked at Alexandria were
search, and their captains often had to settle for a copy of
documents, with the original kept in a collection that may at one
have numbered 700,000 papyrus scrolls.
By contrast, the cash-starved Egyptian government has set the new
library's acquisitions budget at just $5 million a year, so for
resources the institution will have to rely heavily on the
For now its collection stands at just 350,000 works, a tiny
capacity, and just one-fourth the size of Egypt's 1.5
national library in Cairo. Most of the works collected are from
humanities and social sciences, and huge gaps remain in the arts
architecture, business management, science and technology.
"I am sure that more support will come after the inauguration,"
Zahran, the project director, said. But though the library was
to open last spring, workers have only now begun the finishing
including a granite exterior etched with characters from a
Still, a planetarium and a conference center adjoining the
No one is sure exactly how and when the old Alexandria library
from the scene, and the archaeological work that preceded the
construction of its successor uncovered not a single trace of the
It was long thought that Cleopatra's lover, Julius Caesar, was
responsible for the demise, through troops who burned part of
in 47 B.C. in the prelude to what was ultimately a Roman
at least part of that collection is now believed to have survived
conflagration, only to disappear in the face of further traumas.
The library may finally have been wiped out in the third century
some historians say, during fighting under Emperor Aurelian. But
say some scrolls probably endured until the fourth century or
seventh century, only to be burned in the heat of anti-pagan or
This time, builders have taken no chances. Below the ground, the
foundation is encased in a cylindrical shell as protection from
and earthquakes. And yes, the library does include fire escapes.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
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