Reincarnation of Alexandria Library

The famous Library of Alexandria is to rise from the ashes, two thousand years after the tragedy which destroyed a great part of the world’s main written works, an incalculable cultural and scientific loss. Today, Sunday 21st April, the new project is announced, two days before the International Book Day.

The new library, the design of which is based on the Egyptian Sun-God, Ra, is to start with a collection of 500,000 books, rising to 8,000,000 after five years. It will have 100,000 manuscripts, 50,000 maps, 10,000 rare books, 200,000 audio cassettes, 200 CD-ROM and 50 video tapes. The circular building will rise 37 metres above the ground and will go down 15.8 m. below ground level. Situated near the site of the old library in the west of this Egyptian city on the Mediterranean Sea, the new building will have seven floors.

The original building was built by Ptolemy II in 283 BC as a museum. The intention was to attract the world’s wise men to Egypt, then at the height of the Ptolemaic dynasty and to house in the same building copies of all the books then in existence in the world, these being papyrus manuscripts. It is said that the old Library of Alexandria had a collection of 700,000 books. Apart from ancient Greek books, the library had Roman scripts, including, it is thought, the only copy of the Ancient Laws of Rome, written 700 years before Christ, and translations of Jewish, Persian, Assyrian, Indian, Egyptian and Babylonian texts. In short, all the knowledge then known, in written form.

A second library, called the Serapeion, was built later, in the time of Serapis. This was smaller and open to the public, unlike the main library, which was only for scholars. It was in 48 BC that disaster struck, when the building was burnt down during a conflict between the joint forces of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar and Cleopatra’s brother, Ptolemy XIV, whose troops had laid siege to the area where the original building was situated.

The only document which tells the story of what happened, the Chronicle of the Alexandrian War, by Titus Livius, was lost, this being repeated by hearsay by other authors in the following years. He claimed that it was Julius Caesar who set fire to the building to block the advance of Ptolemy’s forces and that the fire spread to the warehouses where the manuscripts were kept.

The fact that this document was lost has given rise to other theories, which claim that the building was not destroyed by Caesar. One theory claims that the library was destroyed in the third century AD, during a battle between Zenobia, Queen of Palmira and the Roman Emperor, Aurelian. Others blame the Christians, who destroyed “Pagan” temples in the following century and an Arab General, who in the 8th century, took the building and used the manuscripts to heat the public baths.

The first theory, however, is the one generally accepted by historians.


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Author`s name Editorial Team